MOOC Madness

By Simonson, Michael | Distance Learning, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

MOOC Madness


Simonson, Michael, Distance Learning


"Though this be madness, yet there is method in't"

- Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, line 211, Shakespeare

Massive open online courses, or MOOCs, pronounced interestingly enough as moooooks as in cow sounds, are the "talk of the town." The October 5, 2012 Section ? of The Chronicle of Higher Education dedicated its entire issue to the topic of MOOCs. The New York Times has written about MOOCs, and even South Honda's own Sun Sentinel has opined on the topic of MOOCS.

Just what are MOOCs and what do they offer to the field of distance education? Simply, the name tells it all. MOOC courses are massive, often with enrollments in the tens of thousands. Next, they are open, meaning open access courseware is used to deliver the course, and enrollment is open to anyone who is interested. Next, MOOCs are online, fully online and asynchronous. And last, they are courses, often a digitized version of a traditional lecture class with sessions recorded in video, audio, and posted online.

But, are MOOCs distance education, as many think? First, one needs to define distance education. Distance Learning journal has regularly applied this definition: "Institutionally-based formal education, where the learning group is separated, and where interactive communications technologies are used to connect the instructor, learners and resources" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012).

At first glance this definition does seem to include MOOCs as they are most often configured. MOOCs are institutionallybased; at least originally they were. The great universities of the United States, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford, offer MOOCs. Interestingly, many of the instigators of MOOCs initiatives have left their universities to offer massive online courses via private corporations.

Next, it is obvious that the learning group is separated; at least the learners and resources are geographically separated. But what about the instructors? Certainly MOOC designers and the talent featured in the videos can be considered instructors, but are these individuals actually involved in the use of the MOOC or are they "just talent? …

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