They usually consist of video lectures, questionnaires, readings, problem tasks, discussion boards etc. and provide access to sources such as libraries, journals, research papers and archives.
When I explained the concept of MOOC to my father, I said it was an online activity for bored teachers and their wives. He understood.
A MOOC typically lasts for a couple of weeks and depending on how serious you are, you can spend between 3 and 30 hours a week on it. There is no pressure, you can take from it what you wish and drop out any time. The language of a MOOC is not academic but you are encouraged to use your brain cells. If like me you get lost after the first bit of statistic or maths, there is the discussion forum and about 2k people ready to explain. I am also known to have skipped the hard bits. Nobody noticed.
I have done a MOOC from UCLA on dental medicine (when I was struggling from the aftermath of gruesome oral surgery, you can ask me anything about tooth decay), a MOOC from Trinity College Dublin on the Irish Easter Rising of 1916, a MOOC from the University of Melbourne on the effects of climate change on Pacific island nations (not just because I find their names and language so amazing), one by the University of Copenhagen on Nordic cooking (that was weird), one by the University of Norfolk on food as medicine (which was very helpful) and I failed/dropped out of about 20 more.
The worst was the MOOC from the University of Cape Town on the threat of a sixth mass extinction. I did that together with a friend who is a biologist because I am shit at biology. About half way through, we just sat there shattered and in tears, calling our daughters across the globe to listen to their carefree voices.
I have stayed away from all this dangerous fact finding since then. Despite the fact that I open my big mouth all the time.
But today, I enrolled again.
This MOOC is provided (free online, click here) by Harvard and MIT via edX:
Climate Change: The Science and Global ImpactIn this course, you will explore the science behind anthropogenic climate change with climate expert, Michael Mann. By joining this course, you are becoming part of a global movement to act on climate change. The first step toward any action is knowledge and understanding.Because, once you have a firm grasp on the science, you'll be able to translate your understanding into action, so we can ultimately curb our emissions and keep our planet from warming beyond dangerous levels.
The course is open to all and is accessible to learners without prior background in the topic of climate science.
(Michael Mann is professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University)
I expect to be completely lost. But if a 16 year old girl with Asperger's can sail across the Atlantic Ocean and less than an hour after disembarking, speak to the media in clear sentences (and that not in her native language) about science and facts, fully aware of the hostility awaiting her from - let's face it - angry white men, I can at least give it a try.