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Massive open online courses (MOOCs) came into existence into the late 2010s. As of July 2012 one could distinguish several forms with respect to learning materials, learning design and certification. Initially, MOOCs were tied to connectivism and was based on a model of "2.0" education and now are called cMOOCs. Between 2012 and 2013 a number of institutions came with the idea to combine short video lectures with exercising and peer tutoring and became "mainstream" MOOCs, also called xMOOCs.

As of 2013, it seems that MOOCs most often are a kind of publicity tool for universities (why not...). Some MOOC initiatives (e.g. MIT's MITX, later edX) also build on top of the (failed) let's help the third world with open educational resources initiatives, i.e. make use of some this OER material in their MOOCs.

By mid-2013/2014, a trend to rename any sort of online teaching into "MOOC" emerged, just like anything became e-learning at some point. A second trend is to come up with other acronyms and claim some relationship to MOOCs. This is good for visibility and therefore good for funding, but it's confusing...

Read the Wikipedia article for a serious and fairly nice overview of the MOOC craze.

See also:

Types of MOOCs

Since decision makers want MOOCs, there is an increasing proliferation of MOOC variants and (worse) creation of various more or less meaningful acronyms to sell any form of hybrid or distance education and learning setups.

The two basic forms

  • xMOOCs, the dominant model are a combination of educational TV + study materials + a bit of social web + pulse (weekly lessons and exercises) + a touch of deschooling. Students intake some information, then engage in doing something while getting help from peer learners.
  • cMOOCs, the original model is based on connectivist theory, e.g. see What is a connectivist MOOC?. Such Moocs favor active contributions from participants beyound simple forum messages, e.g. stories, tutorials, links for reading...

New MOOC variants

Big Open Online Courses
Just like MOOCs (Whatever that means), but with less participants

Not really MOOCs

All sorts of hybrid and distance teaching classes have been (somewhat) opened and renamed "MOOCs" in order to please the powers. This is fairly confusing and as such a negative development. On the other hand, MOOCs contribute to open (somewhat) distance teaching, e.g. teaching materials are open and some kind of interaction between tutored participants and "MOOC" participants is encouraged. Some of these may use other labels, such as BOOC, SPOC, etc. Alex Cusack from has compiled this handy infographic to help you make sense of the alphabet soup along with major MOOC providers, trends, and student demographics. (on EdSurge, Jan 2014). In other words, some folks now tag their somewhat "open" teaching designs with various acronyms that we take mostly from Alex Cusack's list:

Tiny, Open-with-Restrictions, focused on QUality and Effectivement
For example TORQUEs
Distributed online collaborative Courses, i.e. courses that share OER teaching materials
Synchonous Massive Online Courses
like xMOOCs, but require students to attend lectures at specific times, formerly known as teleteaching, e.g. satellite broadcasts that used to be popular in countries like Brazil.
Small private Online Courses
Like BOOCs, but mostly closed, often used in combination with flipped classrooms (i.e. students take lectures before going to classes which in turn become more interactive)
Just one kind of main-stream distance learning or e-learning.
Corporate MOOC
Probably a renamer of formerly rapid elearning designs. Btw. short videos are very popular in industrial training and it's probably one of the reasons why (some) decision makers love MOOCs.
noxMOOC or xMOC or MOCC
no xMOOC or Massive online course or Massive online closed course (can't make up my mind)
Similar as above, i.e. xMOOCS that are not open, probably the Udacity model would fit in this category.

MOOC ingredients

Until 2013, MOOCs were done with fairly simple designs. After all, "massive" and "free" requires little teacher-student interaction. However, since many institutions now open up a bit some of their teaching materials (some institutions did that long time ago), they feel entitled to re-brand their offers and this means that some MOOCs actually are fairly effective distance teaching classes using a full array of pedagogical strategies and tactics. I.e. we would have to discuss educational and instructional design as opposed to either xMOOCs or cMOOCs that represent very specific designs with specific purposes in mind.

Below some design elements of simple MOOCs (for more differentiated pedagogies, explore for example)

Types of learning materials

  • Free on-line homogenous courseware that has a much older tradition (e.g. wikiversity, MIT open courseware, etc.). This can include text, slides, interactive multimedia, video lectures or combinations. Most main-stream XMOOCs use videos plus some text.
  • Assembly of various free on-line resources into a structured reading list
  • On-the fly construction of materials while the course is underway (see cMOOCs).

See also:

Types of learning design

  • Read and/or watch videos, do quizzes and exercises
  • Like above, plus interactions between participants in forums and on other channels, in particular some forms of peer-tutoring
  • Like above, plus some light-weight tutoring (e.g. most interesting forum questions answered by a tutor)
Connectivist MOOCS
  • Knowledge co-construction

Types of certification

  • None
  • Informal certificates after completion, e.g. some form of educational badges
  • Exams or similar evaluation by other bodies (i.e. it is done outside of the MOOC).
  • Reuse of MOOC contents in formal education (e.g. the ones that are produced by major universities for their own students). I.e. the MOOC just becomes a learning resource for a formal class
  • Validation of several informal experiences through a class, e.g. Making your learning count (Open University).


Besides numbers of participants that register, show or nor show up, finish or no finish, other profiles can be made, e.g.

  • Participants that engage in social activities
  • Participants that follow everything, but rather passively
  • Participants that only read
  • Participants that only take quizzes
  • Participants that only access some information

Shrader et al (2016) [1] created the following taxonomy:

  • only watching lectures
  • only taking quizzes
  • only engaging in forums
  • watching lectures and taking quizzes, but not engaging in forums
  • watching lectures and engaging in forums, but not taking quizzes
  • taking quizzes and engaging in forums, but not watching lectures
  • displaying activity in all three areas: watching lectures, taking quizzes, and engaging in forums

See also: Rieber (2017)[2] and Kahan, Soffer, & Nachmias,(2017). [3]

Design guidelines

(to be done)

A simple checklist for simple MOOCS

Direct instruction

  • Use short engaging videos (10-15 min max.) or other multimedia.
  • Handouts for difficult subjects
  • Additional links for learners who want to learn more

(Collaborative) Practice

  • Organise forums to organize structured discussions about a problem, question, case study, etc.
  • Use a wiki to engage in knowledge co-construction (this can be difficult)
  • Let students create productions with external tools (e.g. a little case study, a concept map, etc.), then upload and discuss
  • Encourage students to use real time communication channels, e.g. provide a twitter tag for short messages.

Formative feedback

  • Use quizzes after each direct instruction sequence and at the end of a module.
  • Any production produced also can be evaluated (see "practise") above, but requires more man power.
  • Also consider peer tutoring. In that case it might be essential to provide evaluation rubrics to students.


Spector (2017) [4] identifies three important instructional components that MOOCs typically lack.

  • MOOCs are created by lecturers who do not have instructional training to create online courses
  • Participants do not receive timely and informative feedback other than simple feedback on declarative knowledge items that can be tested with a quiz.
  • Summative assessment does not include a grade indicating the level of knowledge and competence attained.

“In summary, MOOCs lack some of the components required of instructional objects (learning objects supported with relevant and intentionally designed activities with both formative and summative assessments). As a consequence, MOOCs should not be considered ordinary courses; some MOOCs (notably cMOOCs) function like large communities of academic interest; others (notably xMOOCs) do not support learners adequately or in a manner similar to support offered in for-credit courses.” [4].

However, Spector then also points out that “MOOCs can make a significant contribution in the context of a tightly focused short course on a topic that is very well-defined with mostly declarative knowledge (facts and concepts) and simple rules and procedures.”, i.e. so-called "mini-moocs could contribute to initiatives that promote personalized learning.



  • Massive open online course (Wikipedia). This article does a good job of introducing some of the history, e.g. broadcasts in the 1920's and the original Cormier/Alexander/Downes/Siemens cMOOC perspective.

How to

Evaluation rubrics and checklists


Reflective experience reports

Lerner side
teacher side
  • Mooctalk by Keith Devlin, Quote:“I gave my first free, open, online math course. I repeated it in spring 2013, then in fall 2013, and in February I am giving it a fourth time, each time with changes. This blog chronicles my experiences as they happen.”. This is one of the smarter XMoocs ... and it's neither hype nor propaganda.

MOOC sites

Older stuff

See Open educational resources, which just focused on study material, whereas MOOCs include some light-weight tutoring plus a "pace".

MOOCs for educational technology


Cited with footnotes

  1. Shrader, S., Wu, M., Owens, D., & Ana, K. S. (2016). Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Participant Activity, Demographics, and Satisfaction. Online Learning, 20(2).
  2. Rieber, L. P. (2017). Participation patterns in a massive open online course (MOOC) about statistics. British Journal of Educational Technology, 48(6), 1295-1304.
  3. Kahan, T., Soffer, T., & Nachmias, R. (2017). Types of Participant Behavior in a Massive Open Online Course. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(6).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Michael Spector, J. (2017). A Critical Look at MOOCs (pp. 135–147). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

See also

Some items (see above for more complete lists):

  • Clow, D. (2013, April). MOOCs and the funnel of participation. In Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (pp. 185-189). ACM.
  • Clow, D., and Makriyannis, E. 2011. iSpot Analysed: Participatory Learning and Reputation. Proc. 1st Int. Conf. on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, Banff, Alberta, Canada.,
  • Cormier, D., & Siemens, G. (2010). Through the open door: Open courses as research, learning, and engagement. Educause, 45 (4), 30-39. HTML.
  • Carson, Stephen and Jan Philipp Schmidt; Academic Matters: The Massive Online Professor, The Journal of Higher Education Abstract/HTML
  • Fini, A.. The Technological Dimension of a Massive Open Online Course: The Case of the CCK08 Course Tools. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, North America, 10, nov. 2009. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 19 Nov. 2012.
  • de Waard, I., Koutropoulos, A., Gallagher, M. S., Keskin, N., Hogue, R., Rodriguez, O. C., Abajian, S. (2011) mLearning and MOOCs in understanding Chaos, Emergence and Complexity in Education: The search for equilibrium and a new educational order. IRRODL, November 2011
  • de Waard, I., Gallagher, M. S., Hogue, R., Koutropoulos, A., Rodriguez, O.C., Keskin, N., Abajian, S. (2011). Exploring the MOOC format as a pedagogical approach for mLearning. Proceedings of mLearn2011.
  • Kop. Rita, (2011). The challenges to connectivist learning on open online networks: Learning experiences during a massive open online course, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, Vol 12, No 3. Abstract/HTML/PDF
  • Mackness, J., Mak, S.F.J. & Williams, R. (2009). The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC. Networked Learning Conference 2010, Denmark.
  • Ravenscroft, Andrew, (2011) Dialogue and Connectivism: A New Approach to Understanding and Promoting Dialogue-Rich Networked Learning International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Vol. 12.3. Abstract/HTML/PDF/ePub
  • Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for a digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3–10.
  • Walsh, Taylor (2011). Unlocking The Gates: How and Why Leading Universities Are Opening Up Access To Their Courses; Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14874-8