MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses


Are you interested in using high-quality online learning materials developed by other universities? This Education Tip will tell you more about MOOCs and how they can be implemented in your course unit. 

What is a MOOC? 

MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course: 

  • Massive: unlimited number of registrations, 
  • Open: free of charge and taken at your own leisure,
  • Online: fully online, 
  • Course: intended to convey a specific topic. 

MOOCs are primarily developed by universities: StanfordMIT and Harvard, for example, are known for offering MOOCs on platforms such as edXCourseraFutureLearn and Udacity.  

There are two types of MOOCs: 

  • xMOOCs, or instructional MOOCs, apply a rather traditional instruction method combining the transfer of theory by means of short videos or texts with short online tests to give the user feedback. This type of MOOC can be found especially on relatively commercial platforms such as edX and Coursera. 
  • cMOOCs or connectionist MOOCs, are more open, as they start from the premise that knowledge keeps on growing and evolving. These MOOCs tackle a fixed topic, but encourage users to look for recent sources themselves and create a community that interacts about this topic. 

Besides MOOCs, you may also encounter COOCs and SPOCs: 

  • A COOC is based on the same principles as a MOOC, but is of a corporate nature, which implies that the course was tailor-made for a company and its employees. 
  • A SPOC is a Small Private Online Course, which is developed for a smaller target audience. 

How to Use Existing MOOCs? 

Developing your own MOOC – in other words, sharing your own material, possibly protected by copyright – can help ‘cater to’ new target student groups and trigger them into taking on a full study programme. An increasing number of universities recognize certificates of specific MOOCs, such as MIT’s MicroMasters on edX, which are then eligible for ECTS-credits at a charge.

However, a well-designed MOOC in which, for example, an (international) expert shares their knowledge, can be the perfect source for enriching your own classes. As a lecturer, you can use (parts of) existing MOOCs in your course unit in various ways. The following examples can be a source of inspiration: 

A MOOC as Input for a Flipped Classroom 

MOOCs can be used in combination with the flipped classroom teaching method. In so doing, you can blend high-quality online course materials (often developed by high-ranking universities) with face-to-face activities you have developed yourself.


Students use the MOOC to go through the theory, for example. Or they participate in assignments, a quiz or discussion, and submit a screenshot on Ufora as proof of completion. They can also submit a specific assignment, e.g. voicing their opinion about a specific video, on Ufora, after which you ask them to give each other peer feedback. Use your face-to-face sessions to find out what students found difficult and clarify if necessary. Afterwards, provide exercises, case studies, discussions, etc... .   

Integrating a MOOC in an Assignment  

A MOOC can also be implemented as part of an assignment. Students watch part of a MOOC of your choice and then complete a test or a reflection assignment. 

Another option is to let the students themselves look for a MOOC that fits with your course unit, either independently or from an exhaustive list. You can then, for example, ask the students to complete ten percent of the activities of the MOOC to be submitted as a portfolio. 

You could add some reflection questions regarding the quality of the MOOC to gauge the students’ experience. The following example questions can be a source of inspiration. 

Using a MOOC as Additional Course Material

Using a MOOC as additional course material is added value for your students: it allows them to come into contact with this type of source as it stimulates lifelong learning. MOOCs are a great opportunity for immersing yourself into a broad range of topics in an independent manner. 

Supplementary remedial course material

MOOCs often deal with basic concepts and can thus also serve as a refresher for students. By checking prior knowledge or organizing an intermediate test first, you can recommend certain modules to enhance their knowledge in a targeted manner. This way, you offer additional course materials to students in need of them without sacrificing class time.  

MOOCs: Important Points to Consider  

Explain the Concept MOOC

Give a short introduction on MOOCs during your first class, explaining what their added value is for students looking ahead at their future career, and how they are  implemented in your course unit. Classcentral’s ‘Beginners Guide’ gives a concise introduction on MOOCs.  

Stimulate the Debate on MOOCs

Online forum discussions do not always run smoothly within a MOOC-environment. Here, a class session can be of added value. Clearly communicate that, for example, the proposition presented by the MOOC will be discussed in class and that the students can prepare this discussion beforehand. Find out here how to properly organize this group discussion.   

Refer to the MOOC in Class 

Students are often frustrated about the misalignment between face-to-face sessions and the MOOC. It is important to refer to the MOOC during your sessions and contextualize it vis-à-vis your course unit. Use the class to discuss topics in depth and avoid situations in which your classes and the MOOC are completely disconnected.  

Re-Explain Difficult Parts 

Before class, check which topics were unclear in the MOOC. Re-explain them during class. You can, for example, check this by providing a short self-test which will not be graded. 

You can also divide your face-to-face session into two parts, during the first of which you will re-explain difficult parts. Communicate beforehand via Ufora what you will cover. The second part, then, comprises the deepening phase with case studies, exercises, etc... . Your students can choose whether to join both parts or only to attend the applied part. 

Monitor MOOC Study Time 

Always make sure to monitor your course unit’s study time when implementing one or several MOOCs. Clearly communicate what the main and secondary themes are to your students.    

Want to Know More? 

  • Go through Ghent University’s mini-MOOC about MOOCs. This learning-by-doing will introduce you to the medium in 1-2 hours’ time. The mini-MOOC also contains an overview of Ghent University’s support offer about MOOCs. 
  • Consult the sources on which this Education Tip is based:
    • Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(3), 80–97.
    • Israel, M. J. (2015). Effectiveness of Integrating MOOCs in Traditional Classrooms for Undergraduate Students. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(5).
    • Bralić and Divjak (2018) Integrating MOOCs in traditionally taught courses: achieving learning outcomes with blended learning. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education 15(2) DOI 10.1186/s41239-017-0085-7  
    • Pats, B. (2019). Beginners Guide to Massive Open Online Courses( MOOCs).  Consulted on 12/08/2019 via

UGent Practices

Last modified Sept. 1, 2021, 3:51 p.m.