Title:Why MOOCs matter: The consequence of massive open online courses for museums, universities, and their publics
Authors:Ross Parry, Alex Moseley, Nichola Gretton, Rachel Tunstall, Matthew Mobbs
Publication:MW2016: Museums and the Web 2016

The last two years have seen an extraordinary expansion in the number of massive open online courses (MOOCs) around the world. This proliferation of programmes (in diverse subjects, at all levels of expertise and styles of delivery) has been accompanied by a debate on both the value this provision may have for learners and the return it may offer to the learning providers.

MOOCs, after all, flip the traditional university model. Rather than managing student numbers, MOOCs potentially accommodate a simultaneous learning cohort of thousands—if not tens of thousands. Rather than place the learning experience behind a pay wall of tuition fees, MOOCs instead can open up their teaching for free. Rather than maintaining admission criteria (built around prior academic attainment and experience), MOOCs are open to all with an internet connection. Rather than leading to a recognised accredited award, most (though not all) are sub-award, in many cases resulting in simply a certificate of participation. And rather than having direct and regular contact and access to faculty and expert scholars, many of these MOOCs mobilise the learning community itself to self-regulate, moderate, and support learners.

This paper draws upon a two-year pilot run by the University of Leicester into designing and delivering MOOCs, including in the area of museum studies. The paper describes how the development of MOOCs at Leicester has, evidently, had an impact on the way the institution is beginning to think more generally about both its distance-learning provision and the role of digital social-learning environments within all of its teaching offers, on and off campus.

Specifically, the paper looks at the development and impact of "Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum," a MOOC developed by Leicester’s School of Museum Studies in partnership with National Museums Liverpool.