MOOCs: New innovations are impacting the educational landscape


Thanks to the following people at UCS; Tim Goodchild for answering lots of questions and Nabil Sultan for stimulating me to write this, although it is not quite what we wanted 🙂

Are MOOCS agents of change?

It is still early days with respect to the impact of MOOCs on learning models and educational institutions. However, there are a number of emerging patterns and lessons being learnt from the few published empirical studies and academic reflections. Even at this early stage it is clear this new innovation will shape the future educational model. A MOOC offers “significant potential in terms of [its] contribution to the delivery of higher education by expanding the opportunities for students and institutions to engage with each other in new ways” (Universities UK pg 6).

The MOOC landscape is rapidly evolving. It is evident MOOCs are different to traditional credit bearing online courses as they offer less personalised academic support. A MOOC tends to “dispense with feedback and assessment entirely, emphasising participation in the course, or building in automated or peer assessment exercises” (Universities UK pg 14).

The current assessment model is to offer a Certificate of Achievement or Attendance. Currently, MOOCs are not delivering accredited degree courses. However, this is likely to change in the future as “there is clearly the potential for these courses to be accredited and count towards a degree programme” (Institute for Public Policy Research pg 99).

The learning design within MOOCs is also changing over time. Traditionally, there have been two types;

  • xMOOC: tend to be structured around conventional course structure, with courses based around a structure of video lectures and automated assessment. It follows broadcast model to allow advanced learners to rapidly gather an understanding.
  • cMOOC: are associated with the connectivist distributed peer learning model with the design being focussed around online communities, sharing and discussion. These tend to require more support and significantly more staff involvement once running.

The differences between the two approaches are starting to blur. For instance, xMOOC designs are accommodating more collaborative learning concepts (peer assessment, discussion forums, wikis) and adopting new web based user generated learning resources.

The expectation of MOOCs to shape the future education provision and organisational structure is evident from a number of perspectives.

At the strategic level, the University of Edinburgh proposed the rationale for their interest in offering MOOCs in the short term was not financial. It was proposed it would allow them to experiment with online delivery methods at a large scale, learn lessons which might be used elsewhere in their educational portfolio and maintain their position as a leader in the use of educational technology (UoE pg 5). A similar set of drivers was proposed by Duke University (pg 17).

As change agents MOOCs “offer a means of driving change to enable universities to augment classroom learning. Universities are likely to make increasing use of blended or hybrid delivery forms, which combine online and face to face class time. (IPPR pg 99). Therefore, the development of MOOCs will facilitate the transfer good practice to other teams and modes of higher learning.

From the lecturer’s perspective there is also enthusiasm, although cautionary when remarking on the potential of MOOCs in his teaching;

“It is very unclear at the moment … MOOCs have been so hyped in the last 12 months and are sold by many as the only viable way forward. Obvious intention form large institutions is to take a lead (or rather not fall behind others), which has inflamed interest and hype. I think they have great potential to widen participation in Higher Education, but I think there will be domination from large institutions and groups such as edX/coursera/futurelearn, with competition from the private sector. I suspect the market will become very confused with so many interested parties, and a clear path for smaller institutions is not evident. It may be that the best way forward is to hitch a ride with others.” – Tim Goodchild, Senior Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University Campus Suffolk.

When asked what are the benefits for being involved in a the design and running of a MOOC? Tim Goodchild suggested, “the learning experience will be hugely beneficial for myself and others involved”. Although he did state the need to ensure academics had the freedom to explore, there was support for technology and time allowances were made.

From the student perspective, the MOOC innovation is having an impact on the student learning experience.

A clear message from both the Duke University and the University of Edinburgh studies were their MOOCs did have high attrition rates, however, those who did complete the course were positive about the experience, enjoying the delivery style, thought it motivational and responded enjoyed the learning experience. A strong positive outcome from Duke University study was “the size and diversity of this student population enhanced the course experience for the instructor and the students”

So in conclusion, I’d stick out my neck and suggest that MOOCs will be change agents, they will drive innovations within teaching and learning practices which will transfer to all modes of delivery, they will drive organisational and process change within educational institutions as we seek economies of scale and innovation, and they are very likely to act as a gateway to accreditation from HEIs.


Duke University’s First MOOC (2013), Bioelectricity: A Quantitative Approach,

Edinburgh MOOC Report (2013), MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013: Report #1,

Institute for Public Policy Research: IPPR (2013), A critical path: securing the future of higher education in England

Universities UK Report (2013), Massive Open Online Courses: higher education’s digital moment,


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