Summary: MOOCS have lost their way; a medical or medical education MOOC should be true to the founding principles. Description: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) appear to be proliferating across the Internet, with courses as large as 40,000+ students now commonplace.

Sadly, while what is mostly offered might be Massive, Open and Online, these courses bear little resemblance to the concept of MOOCs as originally envisaged barely 5 years ago.

In 2011, before MOOCs became the current rage, I published a Brief Guide to MOOCs that described the general principles of a MOOC (Masters 2011). At that stage, the philosophy of the MOOC was directly in opposition to the view of an online course focused on massive content broadcasting, with students’ merely absorbing content to be regurgitated in an assessment.

Rather, the MOOC built on principles of connectivism, and emphasised interaction amongst students, de-centralisation of administrative and content control, learner independence, constructivism, and the use of media outside of the narrow confines of the course LMS. It was pure education, unfettered by the bureaucratic chains of large institutions, unhampered by details like grades, SATS, GPAs and anything else that would prevent admission or threaten to conform thought to the great Canon of Accepted Truth.

These were not merely ideals. I had attended a MOOC (PLENK 2010), and had seen and participated in the activities envisaged in the principles. It was a revolution, and we were at the barricades. Well, that’s what it appeared to be, anyway.

What evolved, however, was a different animal. From large institutions, there emerged the content broadcast, the Grand Authority. Mostly lectures, supported by videos, with a few standard LMS features like forums, distributed online as a packaged and polished product. In the words of Stephen Downes, one of the original architects of the MOOC, “they were the locus of learning activities and interaction, but as deployed by the commercial providers they resemble television shows or digital textbooks with - at best - an online quiz component” (Downes 2013).

So, where do we stand in medical education? I have yet to see a medical or medical education MOOC, but here is my appeal: If you or your institution are planning one, please make it a real MOOC. Whatever you do, please do not make it just a large online course with a trendy title.

Downes, S. (2013) THE Article - Full Interview, Half an Hour (Blog),

Masters, K. (2011) A Brief Guide to Understanding MOOCs, Internet Journal of Medical Education, 1(2):