MOOCs and Online Courses

Online Courses

Online courses, delivered across computer networks have been in existence for about 15 years. Typically they are a part of a recognised third-level study program, and charge a, sometimes substantial, fee. Participants receive academic credit for completion of the course.


The first MOOC (massive open online course) was delivered in 2011.   This was the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford that drew 160,000 online registrants.

MOOCs are usually courses that:

  • Use video recordings of lectures from top professors from elite universities
  • Use computer-marked assessments, sometimes combined with unmonitored online student discussions and peer review.

MOOCs are made freely available to anyone who wants to sign up.

The main platforms for MOOCs are CourseraedXUdacity and FutureLearn.

So what’s the difference?

  • MOOCs have much higher numbers of initial participants generally than online credit courses; MOOCs can have anywhere between 2,000 to 200,000 participants who sign up, whereas online courses for credit can have anywhere between 20 to 2,000 registered enrolments. Fully online courses for credit usually though have 100 enrolments per course or less;
  • MOOCs, with very few exceptions, do not provide credits towards degrees, although a certificate may be issued (for a price) for those that complete computer-based assessments. However, even the institutions offering MOOCs do not accept successful completion of their courses towards credit in their own institution;
  • MOOCs have very low successful completion rates (less than 10%, usually closer to 5%) whereas fully online courses for credit often have completion rates as high or just below those for equivalent face-to-face courses.
  • MOOCs provide almost no personal learning support for learners from qualified instructors, whereas most successful fully online courses for credit have a strong instructor online presence;
  • MOOCs generally charge no fee to participate (although a fee may be charged for a certificate of completion); fully online courses for credit normally charge the same fee as, or slightly higher than, those for campus-based courses or programs.