You Can’t Judge A MOOC By Its Size

Yes, the “M” in MOOC stands for massive, but too much media coverage on MOOCs is missing the mark. It is not just the mainstream media. Even online academic conversations are full of comments that seem to reflect the same mistake. What mistake? They are largely ignoring the majority of MOOC providers, pretending as if they don’t exist. I continue to see articles reporting on MOOCs as if the only real players are Coursera and EdX, the providers that boast of thousands or tens of thousands in a single class. I’ve even interacted with University faculty who are teaching and presenting the issue of MOOCs in the same way.

The MOOC revolution is much larger than Coursera and EdX. These two providers are doing interesting work on peer assessment and learning analytics, but they are largely void of the really interesting connectivist MOOC experiments in addition to experiments in the mildly massive open online courses of several hundred to a thousand. There are well over a hundred distinct MOOC providers, but most media outlets and many academic conversations continue to carry on as if these others don’t exist. That would be like judging higher education institutions as a whole by only writing about the two largest ones, which would be Gandhi National Open University (4 million students) and Anadolu University in Turkey (nearing 2 million students). If we went down to the top twelve largest Universities in the world, the list would still not include a single University in the United States or Western Europe. While we could certainly learn new and interesting things by studying and talking about these two massive Universities, it would be a mistake to make all our conclusion about the nature of higher education by writing and talking only about them. Yet, that is exactly what we are doing in the MOOC conversation.

This first mistake leads to others, like describing MOOCs as only having the features of what is seen in Coursera and EdX courses. And that it a bit like critiquing all courses or classrooms by only studying a handful of classes in a couple of schools. Not all classes are alike. Not all MOOCs are alike. They can be as varied as face-to-face learning experiences. Consider the differences between a massive survey course at a major University that includes several hundred students and a upper level elective. Compare those to a doctoral level seminar of 5-10 students. Compare each of those to a physiology course that entails significant time in a cadaver lab. They are all “courses”, but the differences are significant. Yet, the public conversation about MOOCs too often treats anything with the name MOOC as having the same basic format and features.

So, this post is my plea to broaden the conversation, to start exploring, discussing and reporting on independent MOOCs, those running in places like Coursera and EdX, but also the many other MOOCS running through providers like NovoEd, Udacity, FutureLearn, iversity, Canvas, Class2Go (merging with EdX), P2PU, Eliademy, Veduca, Amplify, BlendedSchools, Edraak, iMooX, Luxvera, Open2Study, OpenLearning, OpenUpEd along with the list of MOOCs provided at

Posted in blog, education, MOOC, Open Learning

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, host of the MoonshotEdu Show, professor of education, AVP of Academics, and Chief Innovation officer. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education, educational innovation, alternative education, and nurturing agency and curiosity.