Quality of MOOCs: Challenges – and hopes for improvement?

By September 6, 2017News

Quality of MOOCs: Challenges – and hopes for improvement?

The quality of MOOCs is challenged and questioned from the very early beginning. MOOCs are “Massive Open Online Courses” and were introduced in the year 2008: The first MOOC was called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” (CCK08) and organized by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Many MOOCs followed leading to a peak in the year 2012 that was also called the “Year of the MOOCs” by the New York Times. Currently the hype is over but the number of MOOCs and their online learners are continuously increasing.

What are MOOCs and their challenges?

MOOCs are “Massive”:

There is no precise number of required participants for calling an online course “massive”: Often a threshold of 150 learners is considered for a MOOC. As the number of MOOCs is growing and leading to international competition, the number of registered MOOC learners is decreasing for single MOOCs and their repetitions but most MOOCs are still far above hundred(s) of MOOC takers.

MOOCS are “Open”:

The openness can be considered as the biggest challenge for MOOCs and their quality. On the one hand, some so-called MOOCs are not openly and freely available and should no be labelled as such. On the other hand, openness means more than the free and open access: In particular it can be related to open methodologies, i.e. to innovative approaches for learning and education.

MOOCs are “Online”:

This condition is almost always met and easy to achieve: MOOCs have to be offered and provided online as they cannot reach their target audience and the masses of interested MOOC learners and participants. But there are also a few MOOCs distributed for offline usage by learners that are lacking online internet connectivity.

MOOCs are “Courses”:

Many types of MOOCs were developed following the first two original types distinguishing between the collaborative “cMOOCs” among peers and the teaching “xMOOCs” with a traditional way of educator-led instruction. Nevertheless MOOCs are offered and provided for a short period of time, normally between five and eight weeks.

How are MOOCs related to Open Education and OER?

A MOOC can be categorized as a single Open Educational Resource (OER) establishing a specific sub-type due to their huge amount. OER are enablers of Open Education understood as innovative concept and methodology for changing education towards collaborative and moderated learning experiences. Therefore MOOCs can be a strong instrument to transform and improve the educational quality with a focus on peer learning and online communities.

What about the quality of MOOCs?

MOOCs need better evaluation:

MOOQ_logo_footerMOOCs are very often criticized for their normally low completion rate (below 5%): But such an assessment is only considering the learning objectives by the MOOC designers and not the heterogeneous learning goals and intentions by the MOOC learners. Therefore new evaluation and assessment criteria are required and already under development by the two leading MOOC research projects MOOQ and SOONER.

MOOCs are lacking personalization:

In consequence MOOCs should also address this variety of interests by the MOOC learners and allow personalized approaches and pathways. Currently MOOQ is developing a Quality Reference Framework (QRF) for MOOCs in close collaboration with all leading international associations and institutions and interested stakeholders. The QRF will consist of several profiles for learners, designers and providers of MOOCs: It will enable MOOC learners to easily compare MOOCs and select the fitting one as well as support MOOC designers and providers to improve the realization and evaluation of MOOCs. A first QRF draft will be presented and discussed at the UNESCO World OER Congress 2017 in Ljubljana, Slovenia: http://www.oercongress.org/event/quality/

Where to find more information about MOOCs and their quality?

European and international initiative MOOQ for the quality of MOOCs:


Global MOOC on the Quality in Open Education and MOOCs (QOE):


References on the quality of MOOCs:

Stracke, C. M. (2017). The Quality of MOOCs: How to improve the design of open education and online courses for learners? In P. Zaphiris and A. Ioannou (Eds.): LCT 2017, Part I, LNCS 10295, pp. 1–9, 2017. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-58509-3_23 Online available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-58509-3_23

Stracke, C. M. (2017). How can Open Education improve learning quality and achieve impact for learners, organizations and in society? In T. Amiel (Ed.), Utopias and Dystopias in Education. Sao Paulo: UNICAMP. (in print)

Further references on: www.opening-up.education