MOOCs and Beyond

May 10, 2013

In August, 2012, four months after opening, Coursera—one of several Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers quickly gaining traction on the Internet—registered one million students, from nearly 200 countries. This is only one of the many staggering statistics that could be shared about the sudden popularity of MOOCs, the total of which speak to the worldwide interest in accessing university courses online.

The large number of people enrolling in MOOCs, coupled with university interest in expanding online content, has put this new model in the spotlight. The term MOOC dates from 2008, developed initially as a pedagogical experiment focused on creating a more connected and democratic learning  environment. However, since 2011, universities have used the term to describe course offerings geared toward a worldwide student body. Today, “MOOC” describes a range of pedagogical models. George Siemens distinguishes between “cMOOCs” which follow the original “connectivist” model and the more institutionalised and tightly structured “xMOOCs”. Despite the differences, the emergence of MOOCs as a whole poses a set of challenges to the educational community. Many of us seem to believe that MOOCs are finally delivering some of the technology-enabled change in education that we have been waiting nearly two decades for.

This issue aims to shed light on the way MOOCs affect education institutions and learners. Which teaching and learning strategies can be used to improve the MOOC learning experience? How do MOOCs fit into today’s pedagogical landscape; and could they provide a viable model for developing countries?

We must also look closely at their potential impact on education structures. With the expansion of xMOOC platforms connected to different university networks—like Coursera, Udacity, edX, or the newly launched European Futurelearn—a central question is: what is their role in the education system and especially in higher education?

This special issue of eLearning Papers brings together in-depth research and examples from the field to generate debate within this emerging research area.

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