The MOOC Misnomer

MOOC = Massive Open Online Course

There are a number of reasons why the term MOOC is a misnomer.

– Many MOOCs are massive but not open (e.g.,

– Many MOOCs are open but not massive (e.g.,

– Many MOOCs try very hard not to be courses (e.g.,

Well, at least all MOOCs offered to date have been online – so at least there’s one thing we can agree on.

I hate this term. Almost every so-called MOOC violates at least one letter in the acronym. Why are we using this word that doesn’t describe the things we attach it to?

Bonus complaint: The MOOCs which are “massive but not open” pose a special threat to the future of OER, but no one seems to be paying attention… Before long the general public will feel that “free” is good / innovative enough, and no one will care about “open,” permissions, or licensing. The good has once again become the enemy of the best. And how to you wage a PR war against “the good?”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jim Groom July 9, 2012, 4:21 pm

    Agreed and seeing the term bandied around the way it has with increasingly more gravity seems to make it a juggernaut it really isn’t. I have a feeling there will be academic life after the MOOC. It has had an impact, and will continue too, but not the impact I think many who originally framed the experience would have hoped. What’s wrong with open online classes after all? Just not massive enough, I guess.

  • Cable Green July 18, 2012, 8:21 pm

    + 1 Brother Wiley

  • geoffcain July 18, 2012, 8:58 pm

    see above

  • geoffcain July 18, 2012, 8:58 pm

    I think we are at a really critical time with MOOCs – just look at the various articles and blog posts around the Chronicle of Higher Ed: the definition of a MOOC is apparently including any online collection of videos! The mainstream educators have to define MOOCs in ways that they can understand, that is, they are in the “horseless carriage” phase of their understanding. I think it is important that we get out how and why MOOCs work. 

  • Rafael Morales Gamboa July 30, 2012, 8:07 pm

    I do not understand your hate against the term MOOC, as it could be seen as well as a request for  “the best” and just been replaced in practice for shortcoming versions (“the good”).

  • Morgan August 13, 2012, 8:37 am

    > Almost every so-called MOOC violates at least one letter in the acronym. 

    > Before long the general public will feel that “free” is good / innovative enough, and no one will care about “open,” permissions, or licensing.

    Sounds like the problem with the name a difficulty in branding, trying to commodify. 

  • Robert Maxwell August 13, 2012, 10:25 am

    I agree that it is difficult to fulfill all the requirements.  I made my course in the spring open and invited a great many people.  It still primarily remained the people enrolled in the course.  So what I’ve done is kept the model, but changed the name ( ).  I’ve still invited a great many people, but I don’t expect it to be massive.  Maybe just 60 people.  Still, it is the model that is important.

  • Filip Bacic August 14, 2012, 12:57 pm

    I think that the word “massive” in MOOC means it can be massive, not that it is. If I am right then we have just 50% violation. 🙂

  • Roman November 8, 2012, 10:00 pm

    I created new tool for MOOC community. .
    I want to ask everyone who is alumni of any MOOC course to share comments this site.

  • Mikey April 2, 2013, 6:15 am

    It is a good and catchy name that has caught on and serves its purpose in getting welcomed and useful attention and massive numbers of new users. The advantages far outweigh any confusion different names forced into the field would serve the common good.
    So get MOOCing rather than nitpicking on nutshells.

  • Ed Renner May 13, 2013, 5:56 am

    I used the term MOOL — massive open online learning as the focus for what the movement is about.

  • Luke Lee March 20, 2015, 4:06 pm

    these ideas are very interesting