What are MOOCs and how have they transformed e-learning?

In a few years, video will represent the 80% of Internet content. The format has also brought a revolution in digital education

Qué son los MOOC y cómo han transformado el e learning
29/08/2016 · Xavier Orri Badia

First things first:  What is a MOOC? MOOC is the acronym for Massive Open Online Courses. This definition encompasses courses designed for a large audience in the form of short video pills which are watched online and are open to anyone who wants to sign up for them. This format has revolutionized the education system by making the most prestigious universities and institutions accessible to anyone.

It is a new digital pedagogical model which is radically changing distance learning. A MOOC is defined by the following three characteristics:

  •  It passes on knowledge through short audiovisual pills
  •  It generates peer-to-peer learning among students who learn and interact on forums and in social communities.
  •  It is distributed on user-friendly and attractive e-learning platforms

The history of a revolution

But how did this revolution start? In August 2008, the University of Manitoba (Canada) offered the course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” which was organised by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. Over 2,000 students from around the world signed up to the course, which was open to the public. While this is a lot, it’s not enough to be considered massive in the terms of what we now understand to be a MOOC.

The first course to be truly worthy of this title was the one offered by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, professors from the University of Stanford.  In 2011, they launched the course “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” which 160,000 students signed up to. Its success led Thrun to found Udacity, one of the main MOOC platforms which today has 4 million users.

Meanwhile in April of 2012, another two professors from Stanford, Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng founded Coursera, the platform which currently has the highest number of users with 15,8 million students attending more than 1,100 courses offered by 120 universities across the globe.

Also in spring of 2012, the course “Circuits and Electronics” offered by MIT professor Anany Agarwal attracted 120,000 students. The same course repeated that autumn engaged a further 370,000 students. Agarwal was the co-founder and is the current CEO of EdX, the MOOC platform launched by Harvard and MIT, which today has more than 5 million users.

By summer of 2012, the MOOC format had started to prove its worth and success, as was published in the New York Times in an articled entitled “The year of the MOOC”. In early 2013, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman spoke of the revolution going on in universities with MOOCs as the protagonists.

This educational revolution which started on the other side of the pond took a little longer to land in Europe. The first adaptation of the model was iversity, founded in October 2013 by Jonas Liepmann and Hannes Klöpper, two millenials from Berlin. Today they have around 700,000 users.  However, it was MiríadaX, created by Telefónica Digital Education and Universia, which became the first platform from outside the United States to have more than a million users.

A new educational paradigm

With the independence offered by the platform, the model’s success has been nothing short of overwhelming. In the last three years, more than 25 million students from across the 5 continents have followed a MOOC course. According to a recent Coursera survey, the majority of them have a degree and more than half are full-time employees.

From the launch of this format until July of 2015, more than 2,500 courses of this kind were offered.  Now, over 400 universities are participating in this revolution, and in the U.S. in particular, 22 of the top 25 universities offer massive, open, online courses.

But MOOCs haven’t only transformed the educational paradigm in traditional institutions such as universities. It is becoming increasingly common for companies to choose this way of providing continual professional development to their employees. Compared to traditional courses, MOOCs offer a quicker, more flexible and cheaper way of bringing their knowledge up to date.

Nowadays, we want to know everything but don’t have time for anything. Our need for knowledge is ever greater as is our desire to be continually trained throughout the course of our professional and personal lives. What we need is training that neither robs us of our time nor our money and MOOCs really do offer us the perfect solution. 

Xavier Orri

Xavier Orri Badia

Co-founder & COO