What is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)?

What is a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)?

Today, MOOCs are very successful in all areas of training. Thanks to this type of education, it is possible to train a large number of online learners, regardless of their level of education, age, status or objectives.

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The objective of the MOOC: to bring together a heterogeneous and geographically dispersed group around a common subject.

Organized by different training organizations, schools, universities or companies, the courses offered within the MOOC training courses are massive, they appeal to a large number of people. The audience can even reach more than 100,000 participants. As learners and teachers are geographically dispersed, classes take place only on the webvia a website or a mobile application.

MOOCs are e-learning courses that concern both initial education and continuing education courses. Following a MOOC course can thus make it possible to achieve different objectives:

  • learn a new trade,
  • get certified,
  • deepen skills,
  • grow personally.

The training is based on different formats of educational materials : videos, quizzes, practical exercises, text documents, games, etc. The courses offered can cover very diverse fields such as IT, management, commerce, technology, medicine, mathematics, the creation of start-ups or even web development.

Depending on the subject and the organization of the learner, the duration of MOOC training can take place over 1 to 6 months. The courses also incorporate several hours of work and research per week. This working time is always specified in the presentation instructions for each MOOC.

MOOC courses are offered by many online learning platforms, the best known of which are:

  • MyMooc;
  • Racera;
  • edX;
  • Udemy;
  • LinkedIn Learning;
  • Fun MOOCs.
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There are 2 types of MOOC: xMOOC and cMOOC.


xMOOCs are courses that are based on traditional courses and often come from universities. The main objective of this type of MOOC lies in the validation of skills with the issuance of a certificate of achievement. xMOOCs are characterized by:

  • a course of teaching organized into objectives;
  • vertical transmission of information and knowledge;
  • a large number of participants;
  • time-limited learning;
  • weak interaction between teachers and learners;
  • an evaluation based on an automatic scoring system.


cMOOCs are based on the approach of connectivity and on the concept of open pedagogy. They are therefore established on a principle of collaboration. cMOOCs are characterized by:

  • co-development of content to a large extent;
  • courses focused more on the learning experience than on the acquisition of skills;
  • the possibility for each student to participate and become a “teacher”;
  • open teaching resources;
  • significant interaction between participants;
  • a self-assessment of the skills acquired;
  • a lack of certification.

Where does the MOOC concept come from?

The MOOC concept has its origins in an initiative successfully launched by American and Canadian universities. In 2008, the term MOOC was first used at Athabasca University in Canada. Then, this concept settled in the American universities of Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the famous MIT, which began to share their courses online with millions of students. These establishments have thus federated large communities around their teachings.

MOOCs quickly inspired other foreign universities, and in particular French universities. In 2012, MOOCs were born in France. The MOOC ITyPA “Internet, everything is there to learn” is opened by Télécom Bretagne and Centrale Nantes. The MOOC “ABC of project management” of the Ecole centrale de Lille also appears. In 2013, the French government launched the France Université Numérique (FUN) online course distribution platform. The name MOOC has now passed into common parlance in France.

The pillars of MOOCs

Open Educational Resources (OER) and MOOCs

Created in 2002 by Unesco, the term open educational resources (OER) refers to all open access resources shared legally to promote learning for all. These educational materials may be retained, used, adapted and distributed free of charge. Their goal is to democratize access to knowledge and therefore to quality resources. OER integrates all information and communication techniques into educational programs. Open educational resources include a way for learners to take a course anytime, anywhere.

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These open educational resources are primarily used within cMOOCs, but not all MOOCs are OER-based. Indeed, some courses used during these trainings are not free of rights.

Collaborative learning

MOOC courses most often allow participants to use digital tools to share, exchange and interact, giving rise to a collaborative community. They can bring together a set of social media to encourage each learner to participate in educational activities.

Among the means of communication that exist, the forum is an interaction device used by most MOOCs. However, there are more and more initiatives integrating free content-oriented tools as well as so-called affinity social networks. MOOCs are progressing and are becoming, for some, collaborative platforms based on the contextualized construction of knowledge. Collaboration tools are then used as means to develop exchanges between students and facilitate learning between peers.

Pedagogical scripting

MOOC training is also based on the design of an educational scenario. The training sessions have a predefined duration and temporality. The training objectives are identified in order to define the learning activities to be organised. The trainings usually consist of weekly teaching sessions. This makes it possible to mark out the learning stages of the participants. Each weekly session is usually organized around videos linked to online content. A quiz then validates the training sequence.

Advantages and disadvantages of MOOCs


MOOCs offer a large number of advantages, first of all, from a practical point of view. Thanks to MOOCs, it is easy to take part in training in complete flexibility, regardless of the location and time slots available to the learner. Online courses from a university located on the other side of the world can be taken without having to travel. As the content of the training courses is accessible at all times, participants can learn at their own pace and take the courses whenever they wish.

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MOOCs are also of significant financial interest. They offer more attractive prices than those of face-to-face courses and school registration fees. Indeed, the majority of MOOCs are free, only the certification is paid for. In addition, they save money for learners on travel and for trainers on the rental of equipment and rooms.

Finally, MOOCs allow participants wishing to learn and acquire new knowledge to obtain a diploma certification at the end of their training. By having a wide range of training paths, they have the flexibility to select the training of their choice according to their objectives. In addition, participants can take the courses without facing any entry barriers or prerequisites. The MOOC certification allows participants to enrich their CV and gain credibility with a future employer.

The disadvantages

MOOCs also have their share of disadvantages. The first lies in the lack of interaction between the different training players, especially for xMOOCs. The training offered does not always allow discussion with other participants or trainers, which gives them a cold and impersonal character. In some training courses, there is no educational support or personalized follow-up for the participants.

Following a MOOC training also requires participants to train independently. The fact of learning alone can therefore confront them with a lack of motivation, or even attendance. Motivation remains a key factor for the success of a training, some participants will therefore have to make a major effort of concentration. Indeed, all their attention will have to be focused on the lessons, without being distracted by their environment when they follow lessons at home, for example.

Finally, we must not forget that even if MOOC training is generally free, certification has a cost: to be able to validate it, participants will therefore have to pay for it.

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