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Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) explained

The concept of the amusingly-titled Mooc – or Massive Open Online Course – has taken off in the US and is now being embraced by UK universities, too. But what are they?

What is a Mooc?

A Mooc is an online university short course aimed at making higher education more accessible to more people. Instead of physically attending lectures and seminars or hitting the library, you complete the course usually over a set number of weeks using university materials and resources posted online.

Moocs are open to anyone in the world via the internet, usually free of charge and often they don’t have any entry requirements. Interaction with your fellow students is usually key, with online forums and discussion boards forming an important part of the learning process.

At the start of 2016, there were over 4,000 Moocs available, according to ICEF Monitor.

Do Moocs count as a qualification?

Most Moocs don’t have formal university credits assigned to them. 

However in May 2016, Leeds University and Open University announced that students could earn course credits towards a final degree via the Moocs route (though there is a cost to this in the form of a final assessment).

In Nov 2016, Oxford University announced that it would be launching its first Mooc - an economics course in partnership online university network EdX in the US - beginning in February 2017.

How can you use a Mooc to get into higher education?

We asked a couple of the universities who offer Moocs what the benefits of taking them are if you're considering degree study... 

Moocs provide you with access to high quality learning materials and offer a taster of exciting and innovative topics which are taught in leading universities. You can experience a new discipline, whilst being supported by experts in their fields and peers with similar interests, prior to committing to studying for a full award.

Moocs have the potential to raise aspirations for further study as well as make the process of choosing which discipline to study and what university to attend much clearer. Professor Bernie Morley Pro-vice-chancellor (learning And Teaching) | University Of Bath

The courses give people looking to go into higher education a flavour of what different universities have to offer in terms of subjects and teaching.  University Of East Anglia

Mooc pros and cons


  • No fees
  • You could learn from experts on the other side of the world
  • No entry requirements, so you could pick any course that interests you
  • If you're considering going to university, you can get a feel for what degree study is like
  • Courses are often short and flexible.


  • Less one-on-one contact with tutors and other students
  • It won't replace a university degree, as most courses aren't accredited
  • You won’t experience the face-to-face student interaction that comes with classroom-based courses.

Where can you find Moocs?

Coursera, EdX and Udacity are three of the leading US Mooc providers. The University of Edinburgh is one of Coursera’s partners, with short courses in a range of subjects including Introduction to philosophy and equine nutrition. You don't have to take a course set by a UK university, though take your pick from unis across the world.

In 2013, the Open University launched a UK counterpart, FutureLearn, which offers free course content online from the following universities: 

University of Bath, University of Birmingham, Bristol University, Cardiff University, University of East Anglia, University of Exeter, University of Glasgow, King’s College London, Lancaster University, University of Leeds, University of Leicester, Loughborough University, University of Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s University, Belfast, University of Reading, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University of St Andrews, University of Strathclyde and University of Warwick.



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