What is are Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)?

Coined in 2008 by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, massively open online courses (MOOC) are conceptualized as the evolution of networked learning. MOOCs have not yet achieved their envisioned potential, but early experiments are promising. The essence of a MOOC is that it is a web course that people can take from anywhere across the world, with potentially thousands of participants. The basis of each MOOC is an expansive and diverse set of content, contributed by a variety of experts, educators, and instructors in a specific field, and then aggregated into a central repository, such as web site. What makes this content set especially unique is that it is “remixed” -- the materials are not necessarily designed to go together but become associated with each other through the MOOC. A key component of the original vision is that all course materials and the course itself are open source and free -- with the door left open for a fee if a participant taking the course wishes university credit be transcripted for the work. A second key element is that the structure of MOOCs be minimalist, so as to allow participants to design their own learning path based upon whatever specific knowledge or skill they want to gain. The point is that participants can control how, where, and when they learn. Typically, the only defined elements of MOOCs are assignments in the form of presentations or discourse incited by discussion questions, where thousands of participants exchange ideas, responses, and evaluations in an online forum. Some platforms, such as UNX, include peer-to-peer assignments review as a way of learning and collaborating. Additionally, it is a means for the institutions to allow reviewing manual evaluation-based activities, such as project development, with a low cost for human resources. Such peer-to-peer collaboration on MOOCs is spurring quality content creation, as evidenced by the Peer to Peer University (P2PU) and the Code Academy.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • - phecht phecht Oct 15, 2012 It may be too early to look at MOOCs and museums, however it could be worth exploring the growth of online courses being offered at museums. MoMA courses online (http://www.moma.org/learn/courses/online#self) and AMNH (http://www.amnh.org/learn/) where you can obtain graduate credit
  • It seems like technology and education people are excited by this idea, but the general public is not. Most MOOCs still rely on the college-style lecture format to provide the learning. It seems like museums are moving more towards the idea of online learning that emphasizes informal techniques. It seems like MOOCs have room to grow in the "interactivity" area. - ortiz ortiz Oct 29, 2014
    • I think the general public is catching on to this idea. I have more individuals in my life connecting with MOOCs, but I think the follow-through is less exciting. People start things (like in many areas of their lives) and then drop them relatively quickly. Perhaps a discussion of the gains of the MOOC? The "who cares" conversation? - Jenoleniczak Jenoleniczak Oct 30, 2014
We are starting to see some collaborations such as the British Museum working with the BBC and a university to deliver specialist subject topics such as history of WW1, which potentially provides a more workable model. I can see from a content point of view that museums could provide very popular topics delivered from their unique perspective and use of collections. However I think the biggest issues for museums not moving into this space are the amount of time and cost it takes to create a course versus other more pressing priorities, the need to draw on a number of different areas of the museum (curatorial, education, media presentation, digital media expertise) to produce compelling online content. The pay-off for museums just isn't there at the moment in the MOOC business model.- croyston croyston Nov 1, 2014

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Add your perspective here...- AHelmreich AHelmreich Oct 24, 2014the description above is likely to be slightly out of date. For example, some MOOCS allow for the open pathway, learn at your own pace model described above, but others are like a regularly scheduled course- with designated participation times for such components as discussions.
  • I would like to change the second sentence: MOOCs have or haven't achieved their full potential as much as many of the other technologies we discuss here. They're no longer promising, but actually transforming education. (Anecdote, in 2012 a national newspaper in NL created the 'newspaper of the future', from 2022. In it, they discussed a deal between the local university and a chain of coffee shops to formalise the fact that all students only did their courses in the coffee shops. Since, such conversations have really begun.) - jasper jasper Nov 2, 2014
  • Also, the minimalist structure of MOOCs is on its return in my experience: although participants are free to participate or not, the best MOOCs provide rigid structures with sometimes daily schedules of what to do and how to engage to get most out of the course. - jasper jasper Nov 2, 2014

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Add your perspective here...- AHelmreich AHelmreich Oct 24, 2014with museum's making their content more open, this may incentivize educational institutions to pursue MOOCS since rights issues have been a major stumbling block, to date, for educational institutions to feature museum objects as part of a MOOC.
  • If MOOCs, become more popular, general audiences might expect museums to offer them. This could be a challenge since the technology to offer them, along with the cost of instruction, could be a burden to institutions. - ortiz ortiz Oct 29, 2014
  • Agree with above - but what a fantastic opportunity to extend visitor-ship and empower the museum goer? - Jenoleniczak Jenoleniczak Oct 30, 2014
  • MOOCs can be a great way for many museums to leverage their existing video channels and make them more relevant to the museum audience. For instance, YouTube channels that dive into the collection get more focus and probably engagement when they're structured as a MOOC, while hardly increasing the burden on a museum. - jasper jasper Nov 2, 2014

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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