I wrote a post at the start of the year called 2012 - the year of the MOOC? and it has certainly proved to be just that. A number of high profile initiatives such as Coursera and EdX have been launched offering free online higher education to a great deal of mainstream media buzz. The acronym MOOC is frequently used but has grown to include models that differ significantly from the original versions launched by people like George Siemens and Stephen Downes several years ago. The original model is highly collaborative with students aggregating and creating content, discussing and sharing new ideas in a dynamic but sometimes chaotic environment. The notion of the traditional linear course with predefined objectives becomes more fluid with each student participating on their own terms and with individual objectives.
Most of the headline-making MOOCs like EdX are highly traditional in format; online lectures, lesson plans, tests and reading with some kind of certificate of completion at the end (though never "real" university credits). The gap between these two models is so large that we may need to redefine the MOOC or bring in some new acronyms.
David Wiley questions the use of the term Massive Open Online Course on the grounds that most MOOCs fail to comply with at least one of the words in the acronym (The MOOC misnomer). Indeed there are many that are not as open as we might imagine, many are not so massive and some are not really courses in the traditional sense of the word. Wiley is worried that free might become more important than open:
The MOOCs which are “massive but not open” pose a special threat to the future of OER, but no one seems to be paying attention… Before long the general public will feel that “free” is good / innovative enough, and no one will care about “open,” permissions, or licensing. The good has once again become the enemy of the best. And how to you wage a PR war against “the good?”
Debbie Morrison writes a good summary of some of these issues in a post called MOOC Mythbuster – What MOOCs are and what they aren’t that includes an overview chart comparing and contrasting different forms of course delivery.
Are all MOOCs really MOOCs? It's certainly a term that just now accommodates a wide range of models and maybe by the end of this year the MOOC as a concept will have morphed into new terminology. This is hardly surprising since it is all about experimentation and development of new educational models. Defining a moving target is never easy.