MOOCs - What, Why and How?

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MOOCs are currently a topical subject at the University, and in this post we'll explore what a MOOC is, how we're exploring the use of them at Bath, and generally what all the fuss is about.
MOOCs have been around for a couple of years now, and many people have tried one out. (Some of them have even completed one!) But if you're not one of those people, you might be wondering what a MOOC is. MOOC is an acronym for Massive Open Online Course, and as you'll have guessed the three key points about a MOOC are:

  • It can be huge in terms of numbers of students studying on it.
  • There is no financial cost to join.
  • All of the learning and teaching involved takes place online.

In many ways, the kind of online delivery that is going on within MOOCs is not new at all. Typically they utilise a range of digital tools that have been around for some time now, with videos, podcasts and selected readings being staples of the majority of MOOCs. In addition a key part of supporting student learning is the availability of discussion threads to allow students to interact with each other share and debate ideas. Where MOOCs really differ from more conventional online learning is in the flexibility of the approach to studying. MOOCs typically require only 3-4 hours of study per week, and course length is often in the region of 6-10 weeks. Since there are no scheduled lectures or seminars, students can complete the weekly activities at their own pace, whenever works best for them.
Since MOOCs are free at the point of delivery, they have naturally raised the important question of how most universities can construct a business model and since the launch of the first MOOCs by Harvard, Stanford and MIT, other universities  have begun to experiment. Here in the UK, a new initiative, FutureLearn, has recently been launched by the pen University in collaboration with 25 UK universities (the University of Bath is one of these) the British Council, British Library, British Museum. Since the Futurelearn partnership has been agreed, colleagues in the e-learning team have been working feverishly with academic staff to get the two MOOCs to be delivered by Bath this academic year up and running. The first of these, Inside Cancer, was one of the first batch of FutureLearn MOOCs to launch last Autumn and feedback on the course has been excellent while the number of participants who enrolled was in the thousands. The second MOOC, Make an Impact: Sustainability for Professionals launches on March 17th and is already proving very popular in terms of enrollments.

It will interesting to see if the FutureLearn platform signals the start of something big for MOOCs in UK H.E., or whether they remain a niche venture.
I will be reviewing my experience of studying on a FutureLearn MOOC in a forthcoming blog post.
For information on the FutureLearn platform and the courses currently on offer go here:

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