What is a MOOC

Pioneer on MOOCs in Europe, joined Coursera in July 2012 and EdX in February 2013. Its first MOOC in
2012 was a huge success, and you can see the current list of MOOCs on our homepage. This document provides background information on MOOCs, why EPFL is strongly engaged, what is EPFL’s approach and what are the first results. This document will be updated every trimester.

What is a MOOC?

The simplest answer is to watch online MOOCs from Udacity, Coursera or EdX. The common format is a course of 7 weeks. A standard 2 hours lecture becomes in the online format a set of 5 to 10 videos of 10-12 minutes each. Students initially see the teacher introduce the topic, but soon thereafter the focus shifts on what the teacher writes. Instead of blackboards tablet computers are used, on which the professor writes on an empty or pre-filled screen, while speaking. Manual annotation of contents avoids the drowsy effect of Powerpoint.
Some videos feature embedded quizzes: the video stops, students reply and the video continues.

The second major component of MOOCs is assignments. Students have to upload assignments every week, which in some of the most popular MOOCs can be very challenging. MOOCs are demanding for students: participants have to devote at least half a day per week to keep the pace of weekly assignments. Assignments are evaluated and graded automatically when possible, for instance, when students have to complete pieces of programming code. As an alternative, the evaluation is crowd-sourced to the students themselves, asking them to grade their peers. Experience shows that peer grading is quite reliable if the teacher provides the participants with clear evaluation criteria.

The third component of MOOCs is a forum, which adds a social dimension. Students massively post questions in the forums. They vote for questions they consider important, so that other students and even the teachers answer these questions with high priority. The possibility to vote about the posts also automatically takes care of quality insurance since off-topic posts are voted down.

How are MOOCs different from YouTube or Wikipedia?

The granularity of MOOCs is different from approaches such as Wikipedia or Khan Academy: on these
platforms a single concept or idea constitutes a unit of content, while in MOOC the authors structure a large number of concepts, techniques and theories into a consistent whole in order to achieve a well-defined learning objective. The difference to other online learning platforms such as YouTube or iTunes-University is that a MOOC includes the whole learning experience, not only videos of recorded lectures: exercises or assignments play a central role as complement to the videos. A single MOOC corresponds to a course at a university: currently, there is no program or degree offered that is based on MOOCs, but this may change rapidly.

What is a cMOOC and an xMOOC ?

The term ‘mooc’ was coined by G. Siemens 3 years before the rise of the successful MOOCs initiated by
different professors of Stanford University. The philosophy underlying these first MOOCs was very different
from today’s mainstream MOOCs: they were intended as a social platform for collaboratively sharing and
building knowledge within a community of people. This approach is very interesting from a pedagogical
perspective, but had only moderate success. In contrast, the more recent successful MOOCs rely on a more traditional model of education, based on lectures. Some authors use the term cMOOC to refer to the
collaborative platforms and xMOOC to refer to the massive lecturing platforms.