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MOOC Around the World, Part 4 — Canadian and American MOOCs

After my long trip through Europe, Australia, India and Latin America on my search for overlooked MOOC platforms, I returned home with luggage full of great experience and tons of information about interesting open classes from around the world.

MOOC around the world baggage

David Mark via Pixabay

For those who didn’t have time to join me on earlier legs of the trip, my goal was to fill my travel journal with notes about classes outside of the major U.S. platforms. If if you thought MOOCs were limited to Coursera, edX and Udacity, not even close. They’re not even the first.

So, wanting to see the wider MOOC world, in Part 1 I explored Germany, the U.K. and Ireland, in Part 2 I spent more time in continental Europe (including Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal) and in Part 3 I racked up a lot of frequent flier miles exploring MOOCs in Australia, India and Latin America.

Many of these “international” MOOCs were in English, and many were in the local languages, providing excellent opportunities for native speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, French or (like me) German to take classes in their own language or for the rest of us to test ourselves in a second language.

Another reason to go exploring beyond Coursera, edX and Udacity was to see the broader spectrum of MOOC styles, including many connectivist MOOCs. (For more background on cMOOCs and xMOOCs, you should read Debbie’s Morrison comprehensive beginner’s guide on that subject.)

Also, if you are only familiar with those major American MOOC platforms, you may not know that many open online classes are not on a platform at all but simply offered independently by a university or sometimes by another kind of organization. My tour has taken me both to the established destinations and off the beaten path, so to speak — to platforms that feature many universities and to independent MOOCs.

It was a whirlwind tour, but I didn’t take much time to rest as there are still too many blank spots on my world map that need to be colored in. It is really amazing how fast MOOCs mushroom. I want to thank everyone who replied and commented on my series so far and pointed out classes I didn’t know about. Much appreciated. These MOOC platforms and individual classes will be added to later articles in the series that circle back to see what I missed before. In the meantime, keep adding them in the comments section.

For the next leg of the MOOC Around the World journey, I thought I would see what the North American continent has to offer. After all, Canada is the home of MOOCs, and, apart of the major American MOOC platforms, there are many other open online classes available in the U.S. that are less familiar.

One last word of orientation before we get started: I’ll be covering both MOOCs that are upcoming and MOOCs that have concluded to give you an idea of larger landscape and history.

So, my itinerary is planned, my luggage is packed again and I’m ready to go.

Canadian MOOCs

When we talk about massive open online classes, we need to talk about George Siemens and Stephen Downes, both Canadian educators and researchers. They started the MOOC phenomenon in 2008 with CCK08, on learning theory, which was the first open online class that was identified as a MOOC.  One might imagine that Canada is still leading the rapid MOOC development, but despite being the first MOOCers, Canada has been slow to pick up the pace. Yet, Canada gathers speed lately with some interesting independent classes and a new MOOC platform.

Wide World Ed will soon be the newest large addition in the MOOC landscape. Last June, Wide World Ed announced that it plans to begin offering courses this fall from Canadian universities. Jenni Hayman, the executive director, says the project is still “consulting with learners and partners to ensure it’s what Canadians want.” Partnerships with universities and colleges across the country have been developed, but according to Hayman Wide World Ed will also provide courses from non-traditional educators and intends to provide “life-long learning” courses along with university-style classes. Courses will be offered in English, French and First Nations languages.

One of the questions that inspired the MOOC Around the World journey to begin with is whether or not online classes from different parts of the world will have different characteristics reflective of their origins, and Wide World Ed is one of the few to hint that they do. They say part of their mission is to promote “Canadian values,” like “peacekeeping” and “social justice.” Wide World Ed will be run as a non-profit platform with an emphasis on research and development.

Now, to be fair to the major U.S. platforms, they do all feature some universities from outside the U.S. I’ll circle back in a later article to look at those opportunities, but, while we’re in Canada, let me mention one now as an example. The University of Alberta will offer a family-friendly MOOC about dinosaurs in September in partnership with Udacity. Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology will be led by Dr. Phil Currie. The course intends to teach learners the scientific method through the universal appeal of dinosaurs. Worth mentioning is that the course will be available in three versions:Dinosaur MOOC

  • Free for everybody, even families. (No exams)
  • To students from around the world for course accreditation for a fee.
  • To University of Alberta students for UAlberta credit, as either the online course version (PALEO 200) or the in-class experience version (PALEO 201).

At the moment only a few MOOC platforms offer credit for completing a MOOC, and the University of Alberta plans to be the first Canadian university to do so through a MOOC platform.

Experience U (XPU) might be of interest for all new college students as it introduces students to the university experience. XPU is  offered by the University of Prince Edward Island and lead by Dave Cormier, a colleague of Downes and Siemens who coined the term MOOC to describe CCK08.

XPU ran most recently last May and was delivered via a Facebook group, and some of the content has been collected in ebook form. According to UPEI, the open course provides an overview of university life, a context for the preparations and decisions students need to make and a fun and engaging way to share questions about going to college. Each week the course introduced guest lectures, videos,  assignments and live question and answer sessions.

Personally, I think these college readiness courses are a great idea and will be a great help for new students. When I started studying with the Open University we used the book The Good Study Guide, but I would have definitely preferred an interactive MOOC that allows communication with other peers and future tutors.

Unlike the above MOOCs, TextbookVideos isn’t affiliated with either one of the well-known platforms or a university. TextbookVideos recently announced the launch of a MOOC titled Consumer Behavior in Microeconomics. The free courses started April 22 and ran for seven weeks. The course was free and designed to help students and lifelong learners improve their understanding of Consumer Behavior in economics. Led by Jay Moulton, the course covered topics like the basics of economics and market forces.

Educational Technology & Media, #etmooc, is an independent cMOOC that ran in the first quarter of 2013. The course focused on new technologies, social and participatory media and blended learning environments. Digital storytelling, digital citizenship and digital literacy, the open resources movement and connected learning were also covered.

Well, that’s a pretty good sample, though I’d be glad to hear about any Canadian MOOCs you think I missed. Let’s see what’s south of here. No, you don’t have to go over Niagara Falls and swim to enter the United States. We know an easier way.

Marta Jozsa via Pixabay

The unknown American MOOCs

Here in America we are going to explore the less familiar sights. Coursera, edX and Udacity are in the public eye dominating the MOOC landscape. But there are many more open online classes in this country to explore off the beaten track.

I tried to divide these MOOCs in categories, which is not easy since opinions differ about what constitutes a MOOC. Relying on the definition used by Juliana Marques and Robert McGuire in “What is a Massive Open Online Course Anyway?” I divided things this way:

  • Platforms that host their own courses or from multiple universities.
  • MOOCs from universities that run them independently outside these platforms.
  • Totally unaffiliated MOOCs, not a university and not on a named platform, which I’ll save until Part 5 of this travelogue.

MOOC platforms

Canvas Network is a MOOC platform operated by Instructure, an educational software company based in Salt Lake City, Utah. (The learning management system behind Canvas is freely available under an AGPL license as open source software.) At the beginning of 2012 they also launched Canvas K-12. The classes on Canvas Network offer a look at some quality institutions other than the elite universities associated with major platforms (which means that teachers wanting to design their own MOOC should look into it, also.)

Canvas MOOCs include some developmental-level classes which, while intended as remedial courses for new college students, might also be suitable for younger high school students. They also have quite a few literature classes and other MOOCs in the humanities. At any given time, about 25 to 30 classes are active or pending. English is the main course language, but you can find the occasional class in other languages, such as a project management MOOC in French from Ecole Centrale de Lille (which a former student reviewed here).

CourseSites is a MOOC platform from Blackboard, the giant LMS vendor familiar to many college and K-12 instructors. Blackboard offers CourseSites as a free hosted platform, and their public catalog features around 30 classes at a given time. Currently, CoursSietes features several MOOCs from community colleges, including developmental level classes, and they seem to have more than the average number of classes with an emphasis on STEM-field professions, such as an introduction to the pharmaceutical industry from the Dublin Institute of Technology, Health Technology Assessment from the University of Sheffield and The Human Factor in Aviation from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

As if to prove how quickly MOOCs are growing, as we were finishing this article Blackboard announced that they are launching a different MOOC platform this fall. It doesn’t yet have a name, but it appears that it will simply be custom built for the purpose more than CourseSites was and feature a similar lineup of classes. One of the first on the schedule is an M.B.A.-level class, a rarity so far in MOOCs, from Temple University School of Business.

As if to prove again how quickly . . . (really, this could go on indefinitely) . . . I learned at the last moment of Versal, yet another new platform, which has three sample courses up: Anatomy and Modeling in Maya (a 3-D illustrator program), Color Play: Color Theory, and Introducation to Disease Ecology. These are self-paced, so you can enroll any time. But what’s most interesting is that Versal has a coursebuilder for you to use to design and publish your own MOOCs, so I expect to see more classes on the site before long. Like iversity did before with their MOOC Fellowship, Versal has some grant opportunities which seem to target NGO-related classes especially.

NovoEd, launched in April, is the third MOOC platform born out of Stanford University. Amin Saberi Stanford professor and PhD student Farnaz Ronaghi started NovoEd, formerly known as Venture Lab. NovoEd will also provide the technical platform for limited-entry courses closed to the general public, such as Stanford executive education programs, alongside the MOOC courses. So far, seven Stanford University MOOCs have been available to the general public. NovoEd claims to differentiate from other MOOCs by making online courses more experiential, interactive and collaborative. Students are able to form teams with people around the world to work on class projects. NovoEd intends to use crowdsourcing, reputation systems and algorithm design to foster project-based learning.

Codecademy is an education company founded in 2011 by Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski that has become popular for learning programming languages like Python, PHP, JavaScript and Ruby as well as markup languages like HTML and CSS. Courses to build real-life apps with APIs are also offered. The founders describe it as interactive platform that offers feedback and recognition for completed projects to motivate participants. Codecademy enables anyone to create and publish a new course using a course creator tool. (PHPAcademy, located in London offers a similar platform.)

Small but mighty

Let’s move on to the many universities and colleges that run their own independent MOOCs outside these platforms. The number of these grows every day, and I’m likely to miss some, so please do let me and other readers know about them in the comments section. In fact, these are only a sample of what’s available. And, since these are the kinds of courses Robert McGuire likes to feature in his weekly MOOC news roundup, if you have one coming up that you want to publicize, then send him a note.

Do you ever feel clueless when it comes to finances? Then you might be interested in taking the self-paced course from the University of Tennessee Extension. Love Your Money is a financial education program designed to provide students with the tools they need to manage money, set goals and invest wisely. The course was developed by university professors associated with five major public universities. Educators can also sign in to the course and are allowed to incorporate site content into their lessons.

The Digital ASIC Design MOOC is run by the North Caroline State University (NCSU). The course started May 21 and ends August 8. It is another MOOC for those interested in information technology. If you don’t know what ASIC stands for – like me – then, let’s take a look a the course welcome page:

“Digital ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) are at the core of ALL modern Information Technology. They rely on silicon chip technology to enable society to build complex systems including wireless devices, tablets, computers, network routers, etc. Due to the rapid rate of improvement of the underlying silicon technology, these chips are constantly being redesigned. Thus digital ASIC design companies are strong employers all around the world.”

Although this MOOC is open to anyone, the university recommends that participants have completed an undergraduate class in digital logic design. It does not assume any knowledge about hardware description languages. Participants work on a small project to demonstrate their understanding of what ASICs are and how to design and verify a digital ASIC (standard cell or FPGA) using the Verilog Hardware Description Language. Windows or Linux-based computer-aided design tools that are freely available on the web (e.g. the Moodle LMS) are used during the course. All the course content and automated/peer grading is identical to the regular on-campus version taught at North Carolina State University. Therefore, after completing the course successfully with a grade of 80% or better, there is a chance to achieve credits.

Oklahoma University MOOC Atlas Black

Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure

The University of Oklahoma (OU) currently runs an open online class titled Introduction to Management. One innovation in this class is that Professor Jeremy Short uses his graphic novel, “Atlas Black: The Complete Adventure” as the text. The lessons follow the tales of Atlas Black as he works to fund his college expenses, start a new business and become an entrepreneur, illustrating key concepts from management, organizational behavior and decision making. The content of this management MOOC will include a focus on unique organizations and businesses with a specific emphasis on businesses in the state of Oklahoma. The MOOC ran June 10 to July 15. OU students could take it for free not-for-credit or register and pay to take it for credit.

Have you ever wondered if aliens are visiting the earth? Does E.S.P. or Astrology really work? Maybe you have seen pictures reportedly of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster and wondered if they could be real? Or maybe you have asked yourself if you should worry about artificial sweeteners or about having your kids vaccinated. Then you might be interested in the Foundations of Science offered by Michigan State University, which is designed to give you the tools to evaluate claims and to give the average non-scientist a foundation for understanding the world around them. You will start to think like a scientist, speak and act like a scientist and see like a scientist, i.e. you will use critical thinking informed by the scientific method to address the above questions. The course started May 13, but as with many MOOCs there is always a chance it will be offered again, so check back with Michigan State University.

Journalism MOOC Knight Center

Data Visualization MOOC, Knight Center

The Knight Center for Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin is a professional training and outreach program for journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean. The main goal is to improve the quality of journalism in countries in those regions. One definite advantage is their trilingual website (in English, Portuguese and Spanish) which facilitated my research into their MOOCs. The Knight Center has quite a few to offer.

Their first MOOC,  Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization took place last year. Alberto Cairo taught more than 2,000 students in English. The MOOC was open to anyone, not only journalists, and free except for the $30 administrative fee for students wanting to receive a certificate for successful completion. The main focus of the course is to work with graphics to communicate and analyze data. Because of the great response and demand, the course was repeated at the beginning of 2013 and had 5,000 students from 133 countries.

How to Improve Electoral Coverage was the first MOOC in Spanish from the Knight Center. This online journalism class was also a great success with 2,000 students from 45 countries participating. The second MOOC in Spanish, Introduction to Data Journalism,  started May 13 with more than 3,000 students from around the world. The class covered the basic concepts of data journalism and provided an overview of the current state of the practice around the world, as well as new digital tools for searching and data mining, an introduction to math and statistics for journalists and visual information handling techniques.

A pause in our travels

Looking back, I see that all my visits to independent American MOOCs were from southern states. I guess I have some more ground to cover. (I didn’t mention the MathMOOC from University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, for example.) But that should keep us busy for awhile. I do have some short side trips within the U.S. in mind — particularly to some interesting independent MOOCs not presented by a university at all but by other kinds of organizations — and I’ll write about those in Part 5, coming soon.



Sylvia Moessinger (8 Posts)

I am a vocational teacher for healthcare with a great interest in Education 2.0, i.e. innovative and pedagogically sound application from Web 2.0 technology in teaching and learning. I achieved my Bachelor's in Health (Hons) 2009 and Master's in Online and Distance Education (MAODE) 2011 at the Open University. With my additional studying I wanted to improve my professional knowledge, adjust to the ongoing developments in technology-enhanced learning. After my study I started a part-time job as research assistant at the VCRP to apply my knowledge and learn more about the pedagocial and technical aspects of elearning. I am also a great fan of cMOOCs and particpated in the #OPCO12, MobiMOOC and the #COER13.


  1. ??? University of “Princeton” Edward Island ???

    How about “Prince Edward Island”.

    • (Head slap). That’s on the editor, not the author. I have it fixed now. Thanks for letting us know.

    • Though Robert assumed responsibilty, it’s my fault as well. Apologize and thanks for calling our attention to the mistake.

      • I thought that the error might have been due to a spelling checker because Princeton would be part of your usual vocabulary. Some of my countrymen take great fun in pointing out American mistakes about geography outside of your borders. A few take offense but it is generally just a source of hunour.

  2. Galileo University in Guatemala has a proposal called telescope, we have offered 9 courses, currently with over 40,000 students enrolled and several publications describing our experience. I invite you to check MOOCs Concept and Design Using Cloud-based Tools: Spanish MOOCs Learning Experiences ( & MOOCs Concept and Design using cloud-based Tools: Spanish MOOCs Learning Experiences (