The idea of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was popularized in 2012 after the publication of a New York Times entitled article “The Year of the MOOC” and thus they are still a very recent phenomenon. They were originally proposed by George Siemens and Stephen Downes as an educational model that would capitalize on the interconnected nature of the internet based on the pedagogical theory of Connectivism. I discuss some of the differences between Instructivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism in an article entitled Learning Theories and Online Education.

Today, the variety of MOOCs and their underlying pedagogy is similar to flavors of ice cream.  Here is my limited attempt at parsing the diversity of potential learning pathways:

  1. Connectivist MOOCs meant to build knowledge networks.  This represents the Siemens and Downes ideal.
  2. Social Constructivist MOOCs that may be taken for a small sum of money and may be associated with credit through universities.  These MOOCs may indeed provide job opportunities for online facilitators and help to drive quality in MOOC instructional design and continue to emphasize the potential of online learning. 
  3. Labor focused MOOCs that are competency based and include digital badges.  May be developed by companies looking to find labor with specific skills.
  4. Instructivist MOOCs that may be marketing mechanisms for universities and serve.
  5. Remedial MOOCs such as the remedial math partnership between Udacity and San Jose State University.
  6. Partnership MOOCs where community colleges based a blended hybrid learning experience on MOOC materials such as the edX MassBay and Bunker Hill Community College Partnership.
  7. Professional Development MOOCs utilized by professionals to update and enhance their skill set.  Can also be a boon to underserved populations looking for a foot in the door into a new career path.


These different types of MOOCs are not exclusive ideas but I think illustrate the potential for MOOCs to move in a variety of directions.  How they will ultimately impact E-Learning is yet to be determined, but they may indeed represent a disruptive technology that could change the face of education.



List of MOOC Research Websites

Guillily, Researching MOOCs! Magazine

O’Connor, E-Learning and Online Teaching! Magazine

*MOOC Research A Gates Foundation supported site committed to publishing MOOC related research. MOOC Research Logo shown above.


Carr, “MOOC Math Students Beat On-Campus Pass Rate” 2013

Grush, “edX in the Community College: The Mass Bay Experience. 2013

Guillily, “Learning Theories and Online Education” 2015

Pappano, “The Year of the MOOC”. New York Times. 2012

Palloff and Pratt, ” Lessons from the Virtual Classroom: The Realities of Online Teaching” Second Edition. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco. 2013

Rivard, “Udacity Project on Pause”. 2013

Maria Guillily, PhD