A survey conducted in 2015 by the Institut Supérieur des Technologies de la Formation [translation: higher institute of training technologies] and e-doceo reveals that although more than 60% of respondents had already tried a MOOC, only 2% reported having set one up at their organization.

The survey results show that the definition of a MOOC is still highly fragmented in the collective mindset. It would appear that the North American definition of a MOOC has not been fully relayed in France. MOOC stands for “Massive Open Online Course.” These courses originally came from online universities inverting their business models. At a traditional university, students pay when they enroll, but for a MOOC, students can register for free and only pay to receive their diplomas.

Three major MOOC providers launched their programs based on this model: edX, a non-profit supplier managed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as Coursera and Udacity, two programs founded by professors from Stanford University. These three giants have provided courses to more than 12 million students and counting. Just under one third of these are Americans and, according to edX, nearly half of these students come from developing countries. Arizona State University has also been a pioneer in its use of MOOCs as a teaching tool.

Although the original definition of a MOOC as an inverted business model is used in the majority of countries around the world, France has invented a number of additional definitions based on how the courses are presented, e.g. videos, virtual classrooms, community marketplaces, etc. It is therefore not surprising that in France, the answers to the question “What is a MOOC?” are very wide-ranging.

In the past two years, MOOCs have been covered extensively in French media, despite the fact that they are rarely used in current practices. Broadening the market base is the main impediment, since the number of corporate participants is often too low to reach the critical mass needed for a community to emerge (assuming that MOOCs systematically include a community). Similarly, if broadening the learner base is difficult, broadening the content base is even more challenging since companies struggle to create enough quality content for spontaneous learning to develop.

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The survey also asked about MOOC technology: “Do MOOCs use different technology from LMSs?”. While 26% did not know, 71% believed that there was a difference. This is another preconception that demonstrates the difficulty in presenting a clear portfolio of digital learning technologies on the market. Regardless of your definition of a MOOC, one thing is certain: MOOCs need to be based on a product that has all of the features of an LMS.

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