What's a MOOC?

Does your arts organization engage with over 100,000 people at once through its educational webcasts? Does your organization have digital programming accessible around the globe, to people who are invested in the information you provide? Would your arts organization like to? 

In the last decade, online education has moved from distance learning and free videos to the creation of Massive Open Online Courses—MOOCs, for short. Currently there are a few major hubs for MOOCs, namely Coursera, Udacity, edX, and the iTunes U app.

While the structure of these courses may be similar to that of a university course, the scope of a MOOC is much different. With MOOCs, no formal application process is required to enroll in a course; anyone with Internet access can take a MOOC. Moreover, “massive” is not an understatement. With no limit on attendance, classes may have more than a thousand students, with the average enrollment around 20,000 (though some classes have upwards of 200,000 students, according to educational researcher Katy Jordan).

Like a college course, however, MOOCs are taught by a specific instructor (or team of instructors) and utilize a clear-cut curriculum. Instead of sitting in a lecture hall, students watch video lectures, participate in discussion forums, and may even take quizzes and complete assignments. While MOOCs do not require individuals to apply—that is, to seek approval to participate—they do still involve a registration process and assessment of each participant’s performance. While a series of educational podcasts or videos may reach thousands of people, they do not involve registration or assessment and therefore are not considered to be MOOCs.

MOOCs are still a very young concept, having only really arrived on the scene in 2012 (The New York Times called 2012 “The Year of the MOOC”). Therefore, it is difficult to understand the long-term impact MOOCs will have on the field of education generally and arts education in particular. Still, it is clear that MOOCs are a great outlet for lifelong learners, those seeking rigorous coursework but requiring flexibility, and educators seeking professional development opportunities.

Some arts organizations have already embraced the MOOC. The Museum of Modern Art, for example, has a few MOOCs available on Coursera that are aimed at teachers seeking to engage their students through art. In addition, the National Theatre has an iTunes U course on Commedia dell’arte.

But what about a small to medium-sized arts organization? Could they utilize MOOCs in educational programming? I will be answering these questions and more in my upcoming research. In the meantime, have you taken a MOOC? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.