…here a MOOC, there a MOOC, everywhere a MOOC MOOC! That’s what it seems like at the moment anyway – everyone seems to be talking about MOOCs at the moment.

I was invited to give a presentation about MOOCs at Internet Librarian International 2013 Conference earlier this month. Since it might not be a familiar term to everyone, let’s backtrack a bit and cover some of the basics.

What on earth is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. The name is fairly explanatory but it’s useful to break that down a bit. In order to be classed as a MOOC, a course needs to be:

  • Online
  • Open to anyone to join
  • Able to handle a large number of participants

Most MOOCs are free for participants, though I’m hesitant to say they have to be free to be classed as a MOOC as there are likely to be some exceptions (though is it still open to all if there is a cost involved in addition to the cost of online access?).

Could you give me some examples of MOOCs?

Many MOOCs use a platform to deliver their material and this also helps participants to find them. Probably the most well known platform for MOOCs is Coursera, which has a number of universities signed up to provide courses. There’s also EdX (supported by Google), iversity, OpenupEd, and recently launched FutureLearn which is UK based (though also has international partners). Some providers opt to use their own system, or their own installation of another platform such as Blackboard CourseSites.

Who participates in MOOCs?

Well, they’re open to anyone, though in my experience it tends to be those looking for extra CPD opportunities and generally those who already have an educational background (i.e. have studied for a degree). Of course the nature of MOOCs means that they could be taken by those who may be interested in a subject but for whatever reason don’t want to (or can’t) study a traditional course in the subject, hence widening participation to education.

I’ve participated in a 23 Things course, is that a MOOC?

It could be, yes. In the case of 23 Things for Professional Development (CPD23) it was massive (though not as massive as some courses – I recently took one that had over 200,000 participants enrolled!), open, and online, and people completed the course at the same time (as cohorts) so I would class it as a MOOC.

So MOOCs have been growing with more platforms being launched and more institutions signing up to deliver them. I’ve been interested in them for a little while, partly to support my development, and partly because I was curious as to how they would work and how librarians could support them. I signed up for Coursera and have now completed two courses with them. I was invited to share my experiences as a learner at the Internet Librarian International pre-conference workshop and found it really useful to evaluate my experiences and think about what I’ve learnt from them and how I could apply this. In a nutshell, though I successfully completed both my courses, I much preferred one of them. The main reasons for this were:

  • I found the topic fascinating
  • I was able to apply what I had learnt in practice in work and social situations
  • The reading materials were provided as part of the course, and easily accessible
  • The combination of lectures, readings, documentaries and assignments helped to cement my new knowledge

A copy of my slides is embedded below – the first few slides are about my background to provide the context for the learner’s perspective (and the cat slide is *totally* relevant as I talked about how naturally curious I am!):

The discussions we had during the workshop were really interesting – we considered how libraries (predominantly academic) could support MOOCs, particularly for those whose institutions had already signed up to provide MOOCs or were planning to. We heard from Gavin Beattie from King’s College London who launch their first course on FutureLearn in January, and the group included people from a number of different organisations who were planning to provide MOOCs in future. Many of the ideas from the discussions were similar to the ways we can support other activities such as information literacy and mobile technologies in libraries, with suggestions such as:

  • Providing information to academics so they are aware how the library can help them with their MOOC
  • Getting involved with MOOC discussions with colleagues across your institution
  • Discussing ideas with other librarians and share best practice across the sector

It seems the skills required for these activities are essential for today’s librarians. I’m sure we’ll be hearing about MOOCs and libraries in future events, it certainly seemed to be a hot topic at Internet Librarian International, both in the pre-conference workshop and at the main conference (if the tweets are anything to go by anyway!).

Is your library involved in supporting MOOCs? Is there anything else we should be doing to support our institutions as they provide MOOCs?

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