Massive Open Online Classes

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Open Online Resources - a worldwide impact:

Beginning a decade ago with the MIT OpenCourseWare Initiative, open educational resources have grown to become an important aspect of learning at all levels.  Many universities have joined the initiative.  Creative Commons and other open organizations are now an important part of providing learning opportunities worldwide.  

In our first 10 years, MIT reached 100 million individuals... MIT's goal for the next decade is to increase our reach ten-fold: to reach a billion minds.  -Anant Agarwal 


"Generally, disruptive innovations were technologically straightforward, consisting of off-the-shelf components put together in a product architecture that was often simpler than prior approaches. They offered less of what customers in established markets wanted and so could rarely be initially employed there. They offered a different package of attributes valued only in emerging markets remote from, and unimportant to, the mainstream." - The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Clayton Christensen, 1997

Some examples to consider:

Mini-computers -> Personal Computers

Personal computers -> Laptops

Laptops -> tablets / smart phones

Music industry -> Digital and Web-based

Newspapers -> Web-based news / social media

Higher education 

Campus-based learning -> distance / online learning?

Online learning -> massive open online learning?

Academic credentialing 

Certificates -> badges?

University degrees -> open credentialing providers?

Forces converge to set stage for disruption:

(c) Ray Schroeder. 2011 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

A couple of UIS MOOCs:

A Snapshot in Time of the Leading MOOC or Potential MOOC Providers:

Coursera, at this time, is a collaborative online learning effort among more than 30 universities: Charter providers were Princeton University, Stanford University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the University of Pennsylvania. More recently dozens of universities joined Coursera.  High quality online courses taught by faculty members from those institutions are freely available on a published schedule. The first classes are attracting tens of thousands of enrollees. Academic credit was not offered for the first classes; however certificates are awarded to those who take all of the quizzes and exams in classes.

Harvard University and MIT recently joined together in an open online initiative called edX. UC Berkeley and the University of Texas system recently announced they are joining MIT and Harvard in edX .It is designed to offer online learning to millions of people around the world. Through the partnership, the two universities intend to “extend their collective reach to build a global community of online learners and to improve education for everyone)." The not-for-profit edX initiative is equally owned and funded by the two universities. In announcing edX, the founders said it “will never replace the traditional residential model of undergraduate education,” but rather that “it will serve to improve and supplement the teaching and learning experienced at both universities". The director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and the president of edX, Anant Agarwal, says the goal of the combined initiatives is to educate up to one billion people in the coming decade. The edX initiative is based on MITx, which was begun in December, 2011.  


Google launched its first online class this summer - "Power Searching with Google."  Peter Norvig, vice president of research announced that Google has released the basic learning management system for free and open use.  In doing so, he made an interesting remark hinting at the future of Google in leading the MOOC movement:  "The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education," Peter Norvig, director of Google Research said. "It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction."  

Apple Corporation, which had long offered iTunes U as an educational site for podcasting, announced an upgrade in its service to include many more features that allow educators to provide entire classes, rather than merely podcast lectures and other presentations. Apple’s iTunes U provides a unique learning management system that supports audio, video, text, and additional multi-media. The free service can be accessed through the web, but also through apps on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Instructure Canvas Network 

On October 31, 2012, the recent (and rapidly growing) learning management system provider Instructure launched a MOOC initiative of a couple dozen MOOCs from professors at colleges at a variety of universities.  

Blackboard CourseSites MOOC Platform 

A year ago, CourseSites announced their MOOC platform initiative.  This initiative has drawn a number of universities to use the platform.  It is still early in development.  Earlier this year Indiana University Professor Curt Bonk (The World Is Open) launched the first MOOC using the platform.  The University of Illinois Springfield will use the platform for its second MOOC - this one on the Emancipation Proclamation - in January.  Blackbaord, like Canvas, is a LMS, but this initiative does not require formal agreements and is rather an open platform available to support universities launching independent MOOCs.

The now-famous story of the hedge-fund manager who tutored his nieces and nephews online through YouTube is the foundation of this extraordinary initiative of millions of students taught by a faculty of one. Currently more than 3,200 videos are online at the Khan Academy site. Each one is carefully researched and presented by Salman Khan. Universities and schools use these videos as learning objects to supplement and review instruction. Students and informal learners alike use them independently to build knowledge in thousands of areas. Perhaps most interesting is the adaptive-learning feature of the Khan Academy. Each time a student works on a problem, the Khan Academy tracks the learning and time on task. These data are used to suggest the next step, whether it is reviewing problems or moving ahead to the next topic in the field. This approach of using data to dynamically program learning assignments leverages the power of data analytics to guide progress.

TED is the very popular video and discussion site that addresses many topics of importance in learning and more broadly in science and society. In response to open online initiatives, TED released a beta project to add learning components to videos. They describe the initiative in this way: Within the growing TED-Ed video library, you will find carefully curated educational videos, many of which represent collaborations between talented educators and animators nominated through the TED-Ed platform. This platform also allows users to take any useful educational video, not just TED's, and easily create a customized lesson around the video. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student.


After his huge success with the artificial-intelligence MOOC conducted in the fall of 2011, Sebastian Thrun resigned as a professor at Stanford University and started up a for-profit open online higher education intiative, Udacity. The site unabashedly claims that the classes are rigorous: “Udacity classes will make you sweat. Passing a Udacity class is as demanding as passing a university-level class…. In return for your hard work, Udacity offers a range of certification options that are recognized by major technology companies who are actively recruiting from the Udacity student body." The business model is that revenues from the placement service, which will charge the employer 20 percent of the first-year salary that is awarded top students, will fund the operating expenses of making the classes open to everyone. 

Udemy is one of the early models of offering open online classes that can be created by anyone and taken by anyone. Much like P2PU, Udemy is a fully open project. Its stated goal is “to disrupt and democratize education by enabling anyone to learn from the world's experts."

Pedagogy for 100,000 

Contrasting these two MOOCs is rather interesting:

      • Presentation
        • Talking heads for 50 minutes at a time (pretty much your traditional transmission lecture) tend not to engage
        • Short sharp delivery through worked exercises is far better
      • “Assessment” and feedback
        • A strong division between content and assessment is less than ideal
        • Integrating content with assessment tasks that include instant feedback is far better
      • Workload
        • Don’t expect more of your students than your can give back – students will do a great deal of homework for a degree from an Ivy League university
        • Don’t expect the rest of the world to be so generous with their time for no reward

Three simple rules:

      1. Emphasize activity (exercises, problems, etc) not transmission
      2. Provide feedback throughout
      3. Demands should align with rewards

Early Profile of Students in a MOOC

  • Likely to change over time, discipline, connection with employment/advancement

Machine Learning 2011

  • 14,045 in class responded
  • 41% software industry professionals
  • 20% grad students
  • 11.6% undergrads
  • Some K/12, unemployed, etc.
  • 39% "just curious"
  • 35% "to sharpen skills"
  • 74% international (Brazil, India, Russia)


Assessment Approaches at a Distance with Added Decimals

Peer Assessment Models

Machine Grading - short answer / essays (robo-grading)


George Siemens provides a great introduction:

Adaptive Learning - making massive learning individualized

Sub-concept C is taught again and again using different learning style modules until the concept is mastered.  Students move ahead only when a very high percentage of the material is successfully mastered. 

Some links to resources:

 Sustainability Models

  • Certification fees
  • Udacity as employment agency
  • Advertising within the class (as in the right column of advertising on Google Search)
  • Deconstructing MOOCs - licensing partial content to colleges for "flipped" or related purposes
  • Many creative people are working on ways to monetize MOOCs!

Credit for MOOCs and Community College Implications

The Future of Credentials in Higher Education - Salman Khan, CNN

Let’s try a simple thought experiment: What if we were to separate the teaching and credentialing roles of universities? What would happen if regardless of where (or whether) you went to college, you could take rigorous, internationally recognized assessments that measured your understanding and proficiency in various fields – anything from art history to software engineering.

With our hypothetical assessments - microcredentials, if you will - people could prove that they know just as much in a specific domain as those with an exclusive diploma. Even more, they wouldn’t have had to go into debt and attend university to prove it. They could prepare through textbooks, the Khan Academy or life experience. Because even name-brand diplomas give employers limited information, it would be a way for elite college graduates to differentiate themselves from their peers, to show that they have retained deep, useful knowledge.

In short, it would make the credential that most students and parents need cheaper (since it is an assessment that is not predicated on seat time in lecture halls) and more powerful - it would tell employers who is best ready to contribute at their organizations based on metrics that they find important. College would become optional even for students pursuing prestigious and selective career tracks.


MOOCs and Accreditation:
Focus on the Quality of "Direct-to-Students" Education

Judith S. Eaton

We are again talking about innovation in higher education and it is a refreshing change. The most conspicuous, challenging and controversial subject of these discussions is “MOOCs” – massive open online courses. MOOCs such as Coursera, Udacity and edX, all launched in early 2012, have received extensive media coverage accompanied by a lot of commentary. What type of education is offered here? Will it last? How do we judge its quality? Is there a role for accreditation?  ....What is a MOOC experience worth to a student? Students can receive an acknowledgment of their achievement by earning certificates or “badges” that affirm mastery of skills or specific portions of learning. This can help with employers and obtaining a job. The Mozilla Foundation has constructed an electronic platform to support the issuing, collecting and sharing of badges. Students may also convert MOOC experiences to college credit. UC-Berkeley is exploring the award of transfer credit to California community college students who enroll in Berkeley MOOCs. Colorado State University-Global Campus is offering credit for MOOCs. Will longstanding organizations devoted to assessment of prior learning such as the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning and the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service include MOOC experiences in their scrutiny?

Show Me Your Badge - 11/4 New York Times

At the end of “Fundamentals of Atomic Force Microscopy,” a short online course offered by Purdue University, students who score at least 60 percent on the final exam will receive an e-mail with a file attached. It will contain a picture of a blue-and-white circle, roughly one inch in diameter, embossed with the stylized image of an atomic force microscope bouncing a laser beam off a cantilever into a photodiode, which is how scientists take photographs and measure the size of very small (nanoscale) things. The picture is a digital badge, a new type of credential being developed by some of the most prominent businesses and learning organizations in the world, including Purdue, Carnegie Mellon, the University of California, the Smithsonian, Intel and Disney-Pixar. The badge movement is being spearheaded by the Mozilla Foundation, best known for inventing the free Firefox Web browser, the choice of nearly one-quarter of all Internet users worldwide.

Degreed launches reimagined ‘digital diploma’

BY Ki Mae Heussner, GigaOm

San Francisco startup Degreed is challenging the traditional college diploma with an online service that tracks and scores educational achievements from established institutions as well as new online learning platforms. Ahead of a public launch in 2013, Degreed has begun a crowd funding campaign. As new digital learning platforms transform how we think of universities, a new San Francisco startup wants to reimagine the degree. Quietly rolled out a couple of months ago, Degreed provides an online service that tracks, scores and validates all of a user’s educational experiences — from formal degree programs at universities like Harvard to non-accredited courses from online sources like iTunesU and Coursera. 

The Year of the MOOC - Laura Pappano, New York Times 11/4/2012

Some provocative quotes from this Sunday NYT Feature:

"I like to call this the year of disruption," says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, "and the year is not over yet."

"We reject about 98 percent of faculty who want to teach with us," he says. "Just because a person is the world's most famous economist doesn't mean they are the best person to teach the subject." Dr. Stavens [of Udacity] sees a day when MOOCs will disrupt how faculty are attracted, trained and paid, with the most popular "compensated like a TV actor or a movie actor." He adds that "students will want to learn from whoever is the best teacher."

"We are trying to use the magic of all the tool sets we have," Mr. Lurie [of edX] says. Students control how fast they watch lectures. Some like to go at nearly double the speed; others want to slow down and replay. Coming: If you get a wrong answer, the software figures out where you went wrong and offers a correction.

Dr. Agarwal predicts that "a year from now, campuses will give credit for people with edX certificates." He expects students will one day arrive on campus with MOOC credits the way they do now with Advanced Placement.

Some Open Questions to Consider:

What are the emerging operating models?
  • Adaptive learning engines
  • Machine grading
  • Affinity groups
  • Social Media

What are the most effective pedagogical approaches?
  • Constructivism
  • Behaviorism
  • Case-study based
  • Problem-solving approaches
  • Engagement through distributed discussions, circles
  • Adaptive learning - requiring content / concept mastery

What are the assessment models?
  • Machine grading
  • Peer evaluations
  • Robo-grading of essay /short answers
  • In-person proctored exams for certificates

What can we expect in the next 12 months?
  • Will this become financially attractive to Google, Apple and others?
  • International providers (notably Australia and UK, but there are others)?
  • Will universities expand on the model of deconstructing MOOCs into OER learning objects?
  • Will state authorization apply if the course is free, but certification exam is separate?
  • Will badges and other alternative certifications be accepted - in what fields?

Participatory Activity:

How do we begin to plan for competition from credit-bearing Coursera, Udacity, edX?   How do we prepare to compete with Google U? 

Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats regarding MOOCs and other open online initiatives:

(this online form will get you started - be sure to fill in your email address to have a copy of the workshop emailed to you - I do NOT receive copies)

Prepare a MOOC of Your Own!

MOOC Planning Preliminary Checklist

Planning a MOOC:

  • Identify intended audience (demographics)
  • Identify learning outcomes
  • Other objectives (recruitment, publicity, etc.)
  • Determine optimum time and time frame
  • Consider credit/certifying options
  • Assess available/needed resources
    • Technologies
      • Learning Management System or Platform
      • Synchronous options 
        • Streaming
        • Social media
      • Asynchronous options
        • Recordings
        • Discussion boards
        • Social media
    • Staffing (volunteer and paid)
      • Administrative
      • Facilitators
      • Languages
  • Assessments and feedback
    • Formative/summative
    • Grading/assessment options
      • Machine grading
      • Adaptive learning engine
      • Peer assessment rubrics/models
      • Proctoring (webcam or in person)
  • Sustaining the MOOC after the end of the scheduled sessions
    • Continuing attention to what has become OCW

Continuing Resource:  How can I possibly keep up with the news and trends in MOOCs in higher education?

Daily, I review more than a hundred articles, reports and tweets on online learning.  My five daily blogs are aggregated below.  You may subscribe to these via RSS or email for daily updates.  No advertising or spamming.  You may also do a search for any  keword(s) you choose to read the summaries and follow the links to these reports to uncover a chronology of articles about MOOCs over the past year or more.

Professional Continuing & Online Ed Blog

Ray Schroeder's Daily Blogs


Contact information:

Ray Schroeder 
Associate Vice Chancellor
Center for Online Learning, Research and Service
University of Illinois Springfield
One University Plaza
Springfield, IL 62703