George Siemens has a nice set of slides up on MOOC as a new educative practice which do a very good job of capturing the differences between MOOC and the free online courses now offered by the likes of Coursera (the new home of the Stanford free online courses, plus some from other partner universities), Udacity and MITx. Where that latter are offering free online access to a very traditional form of education (based on lectures and learning a set content syllabus), MOOC are quite different. As George states in the introduction to each of his MOOC courses:
“the learning in the course results from the activities you undertake, and will be different for each person”
MOOC use a far more distributed model of learning and interaction, where most of the content is itself generated by the students as they share their learning.
Outside of education, I would say that the closest thing we have to MOOCs are probably Alternate Reality Games – which have been posited as a form of Collective Intelligence. Some (not all) MMO games also require very large scale collaboration (Eve Online is the one that springs to mind).
I was talking about Massively Collaborative systems in my Collaborative Virtual Environments class this week, and seeing this link between MOOC and ARG, I appended some of George’s slides (properly acknowledged of course) to the existing slides on ARG as collective intelligence (Why I love bees: ARG and Collective Intelligence, and below).
I would also say that while I totally agree with George on the key differences between MOOC and the other offerings, and that MOOC are more interesting to think about because they are a genuine attempt to do something different in a different way, I should say that I don’t feel that MOOC threaten the role of teaching universities nearly as much as the likes of Udacity.