A MOOC (massive open online course) is an online course that normally requires no prior qualifications for entry, can be accessed by anyone who has an Internet connection, and includes large or very large numbers of learners (generally 1,000 or more); scalability is its distinguishing aspect. In addition, a learner must use a laptop or desktop computer, a tablet computer or a smartphone to gain access to a MOOC. To date, typical learners in a MOOC are individuals with an existing degree, often middle-class professionals. MOOC users also are often below 30 years of age. However, MOOCs have a wide reach, with different courses appealing to very different demographics.

MOOCs are created using web technologies and often include data analytics. Different MOOC designs are used to put these components together in unique ways. The level of technological integration can be quite sophisticated and requires significant investments in software development. However, MOOCs are not all presented in the same manner, and they also can differ in terms of their primary instructional strategy or learning design. MOOCs are usually subject to institutional quality review processes, and the leading MOOC platform providers have also established quality assurance protocols for their partners. Learners themselves are becoming proactive in exchanging information about the quality of student experiences in MOOCs, through blogs and auto-ethnographies of their practices within MOOCs.

Revenue generation—either for investors or to sustain operations—is a key motivation for the USA-based MOOC proponents (Coursera and Udacity). The activities of the UK’s FutureLearn are viewed as contributing to meeting the service obligations of public institutions, as is the case with Xuetangx (China) or Swayam (India). In Brazil, Kroton, a for-profit company, is a MOOC leader and uses a network of learning centres as a key component of its large-scale delivery model.


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A Policy Brief on MOOCs by Commonwealth of Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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