What are MOOCs and how are they useful for teachers?

The big news in education delivery this month has been the long-awaited launch of FutureLearn, the UK’s first MOOC provider.

The term MOOC, or Massive Open Online Course, was coined as recently as 2008, and describes free, open access courses, delivered via the internet by internationally significant institutions.

The launch of the edX MOOC platform by MIT and Harvard universities in the United States in 2012 kick-started the idea of curating courses from different providers through a single, branded organisation. This autumn we’ve seen the launch of FutureLearn, the UK’s first curator of MOOCs.

The question is, what does the age of the MOOC offer teachers?

MOOCs offer teachers an opportunity to access new materials for free. The FutureLearn platform itself has only just launched, yet even within its first round of courses there is one on the discovery of King Richard III and life in England during his time. This course is likely to offer teachers new ideas for history lessons, and the same applies to most subject areas.

Both Udacity and edX offer a whole range of introductory MOOCs covering every subject. They’re a fantastic way to get a good grounding in a new subject area, to brush up on your knowledge, or to develop new ways of explaining ideas to your pupils. They also give you a range of good quality, organised resources on a topic!

Arguably however, the main benefit for teachers from MOOCs is access to free professional development materials.

Coursera, one of the world’s largest MOOC providers with over 500 courses and 17 million registered users, has recently created a strand of courses aimed at teachers. Courses are delivered by seven leading schools of education, and aim to make it easier for teachers to access targeted training for specific needs.

Professional development courses currently listed on the site include titles such as ‘Blended learning: personalising education for students’, and ‘Teaching character and creating positive classrooms’. All of Coursera’s teaching courses can be seen here.

MOOCs can take up a lot of time, but you don’t have to follow one from start to finish to really benefit and learn something useful. Often, just dipping in for the first introductory session or for a particular subject is enough to give you the background you need. Other courses might catch your attention for longer. The great thing is that is doesn’t matter - MOOCs are free and attendance is self-governed, so you can do whatever suits you best.

Have you found any particularly useful MOOCs that other teachers might benefit from? Are you currently doing a MOOC? Please do tell us about your experiences by tweeting us at @_Speakr. Thanks!

- The Speakr team