When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

The new breed of MOOCs are now coming in for increasing scrutiny as the stakes are being raised higher – with some education systems in the US in particular hoping to replace expensive campus based teaching with lower cost online teaching. This seems a bit hasty, as the limited evidence so far would suggest that for many learners an online only option might not be ideal [citation needed].

But my biggest issue with the new MOOCs is that they really aren’t MOOCs at all…

Academic Matters probes the momentum and drive towards the new MOOCs in a recent piece, exploring where the drive is coming from and suggesting that venture capital rather than quality education is the main motivation.

The piece also does a fair job of comparing the Coursera/Udacity MOOCs against the earlier connectionist learning breed of MOOCs which were genuinely attempting to explore and develop new models and methods of learning – the difference is quite significant.

One difference not really probed in the piece is significant though. In most technology contexts the term ‘Open’ has a very significant meaning – this is generally the case whether talking about Open Standards, Open Source, Open Hardware or Open Education Resources.

So JISC explain Open Education Resources as:

Open educational resources are digital materials that can be used, re-used and repurposed for teaching, learning, research and more, made freely available online through open licenses such as Creative Commons. OER include a varied range of digital assets from course materials, content modules, collections, and journals to digital images, music and video clips.

On the other hand, Coursera’s terms of service explains that:

You may download material from the Sites only for your own personal, non-commercial use. You may not otherwise copy, reproduce, retransmit, distribute, publish, commercially exploit or otherwise transfer any material, nor may you modify or create derivatives works of the material. The burden of determining that your use of any information, software or any other content on the Site is permissible rests with you.

Obviously, to allow people to freely remix, repurpose and redistribute the Coursera materials would make it that much harder for Coursera to make a profit. And, personally I think it is really cool of them to make so much learning material freely available to users round the world. I’m happy to recommend to my own students that if they want to study something not available here, or want additional support on some topics, that they might want to look at Coursera, EdX, Udacity and so on. (Meantime, I’ll continue to use some OpenCourseWare┬ámaterials to support my classes, in many cases provided by many of the same institutions providing content to Coursera etc.)

So I don’t want to bash MOOCs, or Coursera. But really, we have to stop calling those things that Coursera do Massive Open Online Courses – because they really aren’t open in the same way that anything else in technology is considered ‘open’. How about MFOC (Massive Free Online Courses), MNOOC (Massive Not-Open Online Courses) or MCOC (Massive Closed Online Courses).

(I know Stephen Downes and others have made this point already, but it really is worth repeating)

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