Some MOOCs are wonders of instructional design scaled to a massive audience. They are open as in “free to join”. A good example is Duolingo, originally a Carnegie Mellon University project for language learning.
In this article about Measuring the Success of Online Education, on the NY Times blog “Bits”, Duolingo is cited, and the numbers are indeed impressive. A bookkeepers dream.
And of course, as prof. Cathy Davidson says in this lecture on Youtube, if teachers can be replaced by computers, they should. IF.
Other MOOCs, are open in an “open source” kind of way. The workings of the course are out in the open. Course materials are out on the Internet. Participants are a diverse mix of subject matter experts, intermediates and beginners, and they can participate as much or little as they want, tune in and out at will. People are encouraged to define their own course objectives, and to link up and cluster off with people with the same interests. Feed aggregators serve to mash up an overview. There is a DIY, peer-to-peer, festival kind of vibe to it.
This is a set of guidelines to make a MOOC like that work. Gleaned from the Peeragogy Handbook, Chapter 11. (free PDF http://peeragogy.net/peeragogy-handbook-v1.pdf )
1. Participants should discuss internal aspects: Discuss goals, self-motivation, intended outcomes.
2. Prepare by acquiring the necessary digital skills.
3. The distributed and varied nature of discussion and course material, is in itself content/a learning adventure.
4. Weekly heads-up through synchronous sessions.
5. Overview of the proceedings, like a daily newsletter. Important: the course-specific hashtag to keep everything findable.
Examples of this kind of MOOC, the connectivist ones, the ones happy to explore what MOOC means, are MOOCMOOC, by Hybrid Pedagogy (see their Canvas site: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/27/), and DS106 (Digital Storytelling, University of Mary Washington and throughout the Internet, various times a year).