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What is a MOOC and Why Would I Take One?

Cow licking nose with MOOC! text superimposed over image
MOOC! by AJC1 on Flickr

Have you heard the term MOOC (pronounced ‘mook’) and been uncertain if people were discussing a type of distance education or the sound a preoccupied cow makes?

A massive open online course (what the MOOC acronym means) is a free asynchronous online class, such as our Pacific Northwest Region Moodle classes like Making PubMed Work For You, that is usually taught by university faculty to thousands of students at once. MOOCs cover a wide range of topics and enrollment at any of the universities offering the courses isn’t needed as they view offering MOOCs as a form of open source education and community outreach.

MOOCs are not eligible for university course credit except in specially arranged cases for matriculated students. When students finish all MOOC assignments there are course certificates of completion issued upon verification by the instructors to document your accomplishment in pursuing additional learning.

Currently three of the major MOOC platforms are

Coursera ( – To date, 33 universities from around the world have partnered with Coursera to offer MOOCs. Students may search for courses by Categories and/or Universities, and of interest to our Network members are Categories including Health & Society and Medical Ethics and Medicine.

edX ( – To date, edX is a partnership between Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and University of California Berkeley and subsequently does not offer as many MOOCs as Coursera or Udacity. Of interest to our Network members is Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical & Public Health Research beginning on October 15, 2012 (register now!)

Udacity ( – To date, Udacity is a private educational venture (not university affiliated) that offers computer science MOOCs in beginning, intermediate and advanced levels and focuses on project collaboration. Udacity courses can (optionally) be certified by online testing centers.

A brief 6 minute video overview (subtitles available) from a March 2012 TED talk by Peter Norvig, an early MOOC pioneer, is available below explaining more about the philosophy and distance learning methods used in MOOCs.

Have you taken a MOOC yet? What was your experience like?

2 Responses to “What is a MOOC and Why Would I Take One?”

  1. Hope Leman Says:

    Hi, Nikki. What a great write-up and collection of links. Thanks for keeping us in the know.

  2. Nikki Dettmar Says:

    You’re welcome Hope, and I’m glad you’ve found this helpful!