Editorial Articles

volume-16, 20 - 26 July 2019

Online Distance Learning Courses


Dr. Giriraj Halkar

Every child has right to get good education.  Education helps to build a positive character. Education is the process for acquiring knowledge, skills, values and attitude. The major purpose of education is to let children grow into productive citizens who use their knowledge, talents, and learning skills to sustain themselves in society and contribute to the development of the nation. Rising costs and strict admission requirements make traditional higher education inaccessible for many students. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are providing access to world-class education to any person irrespective of age and qualification. It opens up a world of possibilities. More and more students now opt for a digital online courses. Open and free learning resources are rich and popular. Why then MOOCs are so well received? MOOCs are the next big thing in the technological development of higher education. These are part of emerging higher education technology.

The term "MOOC" was coined in 2008 by Canadian academician named David Cormier whereas first MOOC was taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in University of Manitoba, Canada where a class of 25 regular students was extended online to teach 1500 students. MOOCs are online courses, usually produced by colleges or universities. These courses are open to anyone who wants to take them for free (or sometimes for a small fee, if the student wants a certificate saying they have passed the class with a certain grade). Because they are open and free, the most popular of these courses often attract thousands of students from all over the world-hence the "massive" part of the name. Most MOOCs have several parts, which may include video lectures, readings, computer-graded assignments or quizzes, discussions with other students on a forum, or peer-graded assignments. MOOCs are different from mere video lecture series because students take them concurrently, not just at their own paces-all students start at the same time and have assignments due at the same time so that they can discuss the content and get help from other students. MOOCs started gaining popularity around 2012, although they existed several years earlier. There are now a number of platforms partnering with colleges and universities to produce MOOCs, but the most well-known are Coursera, EdX, and Udacity.

Secondly, students have more flexibility in their workload, as they are able to choose when to watch the recorded video lectures as opposed to having to be online during live lectures. They can also choose whether or not to complete assignments without worrying about being graded, skipping those that reinforce concepts or skills they are already familiar with and putting that time toward higher-quality work on assignments that actually advance their understanding of the subject matter. This flexibility makes MOOCs a better choice for people with already busy schedules, like full-time workers and students with dependents.

On the Whole, MOOCs can be said as;

M-     Massive focused on scalability, focused on Community and Connections

O-     Open registration, Content, No charges, Affordable

O-     Online Cohort, real time interaction

C-      Self -paced, start/end date, college credits, badges, learning community, striped Assessment and feedback, role of instructors        


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are further divided into two categories;

cMOOCs: based on innovative or connectives leaning models that privilege collaboration as a form of active learning. Students in a cMOOC will work together to locate, evaluate, and contribute course content, uploading materials to the course using the learning platform.  A cMOOC instructor or instructional team facilitates learning by finalizing, aggregating, and assessing the student's participant's contributions to the course.

xMOOCs: one the other hand, believe in the conventional approach where the courses are well-structured with pre-selected reading and reference materials.

Characteristics of MOOCs

MOOCs are the "online phenomenon gathering momentum over the past two years or so, a MOOC integrates the connectivity of social networking, the facilitation of a acknowledged expert in a field of study, and a collection of freely accessible online resources.  Perhaps most importantly; however, a MOOC builds on the active engagement of several hundred to several thousand "students" who self-organize their participation according to learning goals, prior knowledge and skills, and common interests.  Although it may share in some of the conventions of an ordinary course, such as a predefined timeline and weekly topics for consideration, a MOOC generally carries no fees, no prerequisites   other  than Internet access and interest, no predefined expectations   for participation, and no formal accreditation"  (McAuley et al., 2010)  

If we see on their features, early MOOCs often emphasized open -access features, such as open licensing of content, structure and learning goals, to promote the reuse and remixing of resources.  Some later MOOCs use closed licenses for their course materials while maintaining free access for students (wikipedia.org).

Some other important features of MOOCs are;

  • They are commonly defined by signature characteristics that include; free courses, lectures formatted as short videos combined with formative quizzes which are easily accessible through technology devices that have internet connectivity (Danbiel, 2012).
  • In most of the cases, MOOCs are either free or available at a very low cost for users. They can also be used by the users on smart mobile phones.
  • They offer the flexibility of peer and self-assessments to contribute to a meaningful learning experience beside, the automated assessment (Duderstadt, 2012)
  • They are more reliable as they are developed by eminent professors, educators and subject specialists.

MOOC Platforms - Indian Scenario

In India government has taken many initiatives to introduce e-information services like National Knowledge Network (NKN) which a state of the art multi-gigabit pan-India network for providing a high speed network, a back home for all knowledge related institutions in the country. Initially, the objectives were to provide open resources in terms of repositories and depositories, which were made accessible to the public. Some of the efforts in the direction started as National Digital Repository of IGNOU, Sakshat providing e-content, Shishya for 11th and 12th standards by CBSE board.  The idea behind these projects was to make education reachable to many learners. Some of the names that fall in the path are Education and Research Network (ERNET) connecting various education institutions by providing network connectivity.  Education Satellite (EDUSAT) a satellite launched for education in India.  Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC), use the power of television to act as means of educational knowledge dissemination, Information and Library Network Centre (INFLIBNET) autonomous Inter-University Centre for connecting university libraries, also it has started several other programs. These all are the initiatives towards open education and education with Information technology still MOOC was out of their reach.

There are various notable institutions, both non-profit and commercial, that offer the courses in India with the help of MOOC providers. Few are mentioned below;

  • NPTEL : National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning. It is a project funded by MHRD, initiated in 2003.
  • MooKIT : MooKIT is a lightweight MOOC management system built entirely using open-source technologies by Indian Institute of Kanpur (IITK), in 2004.
  • IIT Bombay X: IIT Bombay X is a non-profit MOOC platform developed by IIT Bombay using the open-source Platform Open edX, in 2014.      
  • SWAYAM: SWAYAM stands for 'Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds' launched by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).


Some Indian MOOC Platforms and Providers


Year of Launch

Institution behind platform

Website link



IIT Madras




IIT Kanpur




IIT Bombay




MHRD and Microsoft




Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC's) are witnessing a huge demand among the students, with majority of Indian students enrolling into foreign universities. MOOC can provide the Indian students an edge required to compete in the global market. It can be a highly fruitful arrangement for the learner, university and industry, which can contribute in transforming the face of the youth of our nation.  This is not an end but just beginning of the discussion for the prospects of MOOC in India.

(The author is associated with National Documentation Centre, National Institute of Health & Family Welfare, New Delhi, Email: ghalkar@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.

(Image Courtesy : Google)