The Many Guises of MOOCs

  • Allison LittlejohnEmail author
  • Nina Hood
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Education book series (BRIEFSEDUCAT)


Massive open online courses (MOOCs) often are viewed as synonymous with innovation and openness. In this chapter, we trace their origins and varied manifestations and the ways they are understood. We interrogate the wide-ranging uses and interpretations of the terms massive, open and course, and how these terms are represented in different types of MOOCs. We then identify contradictions associated with MOOC excitement. Despite the initial agenda of MOOCs to open up access to education, it is seen that they tend to attract people with university education. Rather than offering scaffolds that support people who are not able to act as autonomous learners, MOOCs often are designed to be used by people who are already able to learn. Like traditional education systems, MOOCs usually require learners to conform to expected norms, rather than freeing learners to chart their own pathways. These norms sustain the traditional hierarchy between the expert teacher and novice learner (Ross et al. 2014). A particularly troubling feature of MOOCs is that, as supports are becoming automated and technology-based, this power structure is becoming less visible, since it is embedded within the algorithms and analytics that underpin MOOCs.



The authors wish to thank Vasudha Chaudhari of The Open University for comments and for proofing this chapter.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  2. 2.University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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