MOOC: An acronym for “massive open online course,” an educational offering in which students and instructors are distributed (i.e., not in the same geographic location), enrollment is unrestricted (“open”), and course materials are dispersed across the Web.
MOOCs (rhymes with “flukes”) are seen by advocates as tools for democratizing education:
While the vast potential of free online courses has excited theoretical interest for decades, in the past few months hundreds of thousands of motivated students around the world who lack access to elite universities have been embracing them as a path toward sophisticated skills and high-paying jobs, without paying tuition or collecting a college degree. And in what some see as a threat to traditional institutions, several of these courses now come with an informal credential (though that, in most cases, will not be free). – “Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls,” by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, March 4, 2012.
The oldest player in the MOOC world is Khan Academy, founded in 2006 by Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard. Khan Academy currently offers more than 3,200 free videos on a wide range of subjects in the sciences and humanities. Newer rivals include Udacity (“You learn by solving challenging problems and pursuing udacious projects”; founded in 2011 as an outgrowth of free computer-science classes at Stanford); edX (a joint venture between MIT and Harvard that will offer its first classes in Fall 2012); Udemy, a platform for taking and creating courses (both free and paid), launched in 2010 by two Turkish developers who moved to Silicon Valley; and Coursera (founded in 2011 by two Stanford computer-science professors; most classes are free). Last week, Coursera announced a major expansion in which a dozen major research universities—including Caltech, Duke, and UC San Francisco—will participate.
Related: MOOSe, a massive open online seminar. “Next year,” wrote the Times’s Lewin in her March 4 article, “Richard DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, hopes to put together a MOOSe, or massive open online seminar, through a network of universities that will offer credit.”
The “massive” in MOOC and MOOSe may be influenced by the “massive” in MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) and MMOG (massively multiplayer online game). Those acronyms first appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.
For more on the Americanization of "massive," see Ben Yagoda’s Not One-Off Britishisms blog.