Monday, 1 April 2013

The birth of the MOOC

Although coined earlier, the term MOOC (for Massive Open Online Course) really started to mean something in October 2011 when 160 000 people from all over the world registered for Stanford University’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course.

Obviously distance education didn’t start at the end of 2011. As a matter of fact, online education didn’t start at the end of 2011 either.

So, are Massive Open Online Courses the latest web catch-phrase and nothing else? Does the New York Times’s naming 2012 as the “Year of the MOOC” simply goes to show that the mainstream media now fall victim to web-based fads? Or did something really happen with these first three courses that paved the way for a truly transformative application of technology to education?

MOOCs are different from Open Courseware and are not TED talks.

The difference is as radical as between ‘having access’ to some course material and being enrolled in a course.

Here are the main factors, that in aggregate, set the AI Class apart from what had come before:

  • star professors (Sebastian Thrun a Google fellow, Stanford Professor, created the Google self driving car, Peter Norvig Head of Research at Google)
  • open enrollment
  • active course forum
  • lectures cut into short videos
  • frequent in-video quizzes to prevent user's disengagement
  • closeness felt despite the low production value (shots of the professor's hands scribbling rather than ‘talking heads’)
  • rigorous weekly exams and finals
  • office hours where the professors answered the most popular questions
  • common start dates and deadline enhancing the feeling of community

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