While each MOOC has its own unique structure and style, MOOCs can generally be divided into 2 categories: xMOOCs and cMOOCs.
The original MOOC: A cMOOC
The terms “cMOOC” and “xMOOC” were coined by Stephen Downes, co-creator of the first cMOOC to hit the web. Launched in 2008, the course was called “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” (CCK08) and eventually had a whopping 2,200 students enrolled in the course.
cMOOCs are based on the learning theory of Connectivism which emphasizes the power of networking with other individuals, gleaning from diverse opinions, and focusing on end-goals as the foundation of learning.
According to George Siemens, co-creator of that first MOOC, cMOOCs are “based on the idea that learning happens within a network, where learners use digital platforms such as blogs, wikis, social media platforms to make connections with content, learning communities and other learners to create and construct knowledge.“
The participants in a cMOOC take on the dual role of both teacher and learner as they share information with each other and engage in joint experiences and discussions. As Jonathan Haber puts it, the cMOOC is “mirroring the open vision of the web itself” because the educational content is continuously generated by the online community and shared with others in an open manner.
The emergence of the xMOOC
Although the initial MOOCs were based on the Connectivism theory of learning, several top universities – such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford – have begun to offer MOOCs in a somewhat different format, termed xMOOCs.
Instead of being structured as an open online community of learners, xMOOCs are based on a more traditional classroom structure: They are a combination a pre-recorded video lecture with quizzes, tests, or other assessments. xMOOCs are centered around a professor rather than around a community of students.
As George Siemens so succinctly put it: “cMOOCs focus on knowledge creation and generation, whereas xMOOCs focus on knowledge duplication.”
Despite their shared goal of providing open and free (or relatively cheap) education to the public, xMOOCs and cMOOCs have distinctly different structures and qualities. Each form of MOOC establishes a different type of learning environment and is appropriate for distinct methods of knowledge acquisition.