Landing : Athabascau University

MOOCs: How new are they?

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By Rory McGreal September 17, 2012 - 10:47am Comments (2)

The research on MOOCs may be scarce, but that is because they are relatively recent. Or are they? According to the Wiki definition (and others) of a MOOC, Athabasca University and other open universities have been delivering MOOCs for nearly 20 years. They have had Massive numbers of students Online taking Open Courses (MOOCs), but without using the name. There is older research on Large classes. Here’s some listed below. And there is much research on online learning and openness in education, so one must think in terms of knitting this research together with new finding on how MOOCs are presently being delivered (or connected!).

Ritzer, G. (2004). The McDonaldization of society: Revised new century edition. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press.

Wenglinksy, H. (2002, July 1). The effect of class size on achievement: What the research says  Retrieved March 19, 2003, from

Hanushek, E. (1998, February). The Evidence on Class Size Occasional Paper 98-1. Retrieved March 18, 2003, from

Gilbert, S. (1995). Quality education: Does class size matter? Vol. 1. Research File (pp. 1 - 7).  Retrieved from

Glass, G. V., Cohen, L. S., Smith, M. L., & Filby, N. W. (1982). School class size: Research and policy. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Hanushek, E. A. (1986). The economics of schooling: Production and efficiency in public schools. Journal of Economic Literature, XXIV(3), 1141 - 1177.


  • Jon Dron September 17, 2012 - 11:10am

    It's worth distinguishing between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, as George Siemens has done at

    cMOOCs are the original and (IMHO) best, using connectivist methods and, most importantly, actually relying on the massiveness to add value: it is vital to the way they work that there is a crowd of learners helping one another to learn and there would be no learning to speak of without that crowd. I think these really are very different in most important ways from the traditional models.

    xMOOCs, the upstarts that largely follow the old, industrial patterns of instructivist delivery, are indeed very similar from a teaching perspective to the older variants with the important distinction that, unlike old variants, they are free as in beer - well, at least until serious accreditation comes into the picture. However, from a learning perspective they are potentially very different, at least for those that seek the difference, because the affordances of the read/write web surround them with networks and communities that form a more complex ecosystem, with richer ways of supporting learning than older variants. 

    As always, new technologies assemble the old in different ways and that means there are lots of familiar things and similarities that are worth mentioning. But they are not quite the same.

  • an unauthenticated user of the Landing September 17, 2012 - 12:48pm

    I came across this "dynamic online visualisation of historical research into dialogue & dialectical games" (see "Chronos") by Dr Simon Wells ‏(@simonwells). I thought of treating my selection of readings that way, to show the flow/continuity/branching. Perhaps that technique could be applied to this?

    - Ben Tremblay