Since the beginning of this year the term “MOOCs” has been receiving a great deal of attention. Massive Open Online Courses, a Canadian innovation, are seen as a major development in higher education. New companies and organizations - Coursera, edX, Udactity, the People's University and others – have been formed with venture capital from the private sector, or from the endowment funds of universities, and new MOOCs are being launched almost every week.
Free to the learner, MOOCs are high quality online courses from some of the world’s leading universities. Students register, study video lectures and related material, and complete computer scored assessments. In some courses they participate in online conversations and peer activities. At the end of the course, for those that seek it, a letter of completion is issued. While this has no credit value, the letter does make it clear that the learner has completed a specific course.
MOOCs are being seen as transformative. They bring courses to a new market - those wishing to learn, but not seeking credit. They make world class knowledge and skills freely available.
However, MOOCs are also increasingly seen as a threat to the conventional offerings of traditional universities and colleges. They are being dismissed by many critics on the basis that the drop-out rates are high, students cannot get credits towards a credential, and the business model is poor.