A “massive open online course” (Mooc) is a free, easily accessible study programme that offers learners the chance to take courses from anywhere in the world, providing they have an internet connection.
While Moocs do not always lead to a formal qualification, they allow learners to gain knowledge in all sorts of areas and, because they are free, tend to have large uptakes. However, they also frequently have a high dropout rate.
Learning takes place via online course materials, tutor support and peer support on discussion forums. Progress on a course is often assessed through peer-reviewed written assignments and/or computer-marked tests, rather than by tutors.
The term Mooc originated in the US just over a decade ago, with prestigious US universities setting up their own platforms and UK universities following suit.
Distance learning has been around for a lot longer, however. Correspondence courses were popular at the turn of the 20th century. Later, there were radio and television broadcasts of courses from institutions such as the Open University and, more recently, the development of online learning.