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Several decades ago, I read a science-fiction story which predicted that at some unspecified future date all college tuition would be by a form of networked television, with the best teachers becoming the well-paid equivalent of film stars. I’ve long forgotten the author and title of the story but I was reminded of its prescience by coming across MOOC.

It’s an acronym, for Massive Open Online Course (or Massive Open Online Class), a course of study indeed taught online using video. But a MOOC is more than that, as a recent article explains:

MOOCs are more than good university lectures available online. The real innovation comes from integrating academics talking with interactive coursework, such as automated tests, quizzes and even games. Real-life lectures have no pause, rewind (or fast-forward) buttons; MOOCs let students learn at their own pace, typically with short, engaging videos, modelled on the hugely successful online lecturettes pioneered by TED, a non-profit organiser of upmarket mindfests.

The Economist, 22 Dec. 2012.

In the 1960s the Open University in the UK was a pioneer of such distance teaching, in part using BBC radio and television. It has recently joined with other British universities to provide course content, lectures and assignments that follow the MOOC model. US institutions such as MIT and Harvard are providing MOOCs, as are several independent start-ups. They are proving popular, but for many students a downside is that few courses lead to a qualification and it’s uncertain whether they can be economically viable in the long term.

These moocs are available free to anyone, but they do not earn you any credits towards a degree or diploma. No one has yet figured out how to make money from them.

Guardian, 30 Apr. 2013.

The term MOOC is taken from online gaming acronyms such as MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) and MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role- Playing Game). It was coined by George Siemens, a prominent Canadian educator at the Center for Distance Education, who with Stephen Downes created the first MOOC in 2008.

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Page created 09 Feb 2013; Last updated 30 Apr 2013