A MOOC is a Massive Online Open Course. The basic idea is that various institutes of learning will allow people to essentially audit courses for free, or even to pay a fee to gain various types of credit, from certificates, which have limited use, to actual college credit. Details vary according to who is offering the course, but the learner is the one who decides if they wish to learn simply for curiosity and the love of learning (most common) or if they want to earn some sort of certificate or some other validation of the time spent learning (less common).
There are several websites that specialize in hooking people up with such courses, with just a few being coursera.org, udemy.com and edx.org. You can find out so much about these courses and how they work at various sites around the web, but Forbes posted a good summary recently about the future of MOOCs. Additionally, you may find the following illustration helpful in understanding how an MOOC works:
Basically this illustration asks several questions pointing out that the concept remains in the evolutionary stages despite being a web presence for quite some time. So, when you go to various outlets to experience an MOOC you won’t necessarily find the same experience as any other site. Some learners find this exciting, some frustrating. The MOOC doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, so, let’s look at how one in particular works.
I signed up for a course on coursera.org:
As I became a registered, free user I was given limited access to class materials: I can follow along, complete readings and assignments but cannot take tests or quizzes or receive any sort of grade. To gain these features I would need to pay a fee to participate officially in Berklee College of Music courses. The fact that I have that option demonstrates one of the advantages of an MOOC–choice.
So, here’s just one example of what I can get for free: a video lecture from the teacher:
As I progress through the course I will share the progress and, when the course is complete, I will give my opinion on how helpful (or not) I felt the course was.