a bit about MOOCs: past, present and future

Alan Dix

School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham, UK
Talis, Birmingham, UK

Talk at UX Academia Industry, Media City, Manchester, UK, 8th March 2017


MOOCs (massive open online courses) are often heralded as transforming the nature of education, in particular democratising the provision of higher education. This talk reviews some of the history of MOOCs starting with Sebastian Thrun's "Introduction to Artificial Intelligence" in 20111, which launched MOOC-fever, but tracing roots through earlier related initiatives including the Open University and Kahn Academy. I also talk about my own experiences producing an experimental MOOC in Human Computer Interaction in 2012/2013 and the reuse of materials in face-to-face flipped class learning.

The talk reviews the costs of MOOCs and the need, if the low-cost element of openness is to be preserved, for sustainable models, one of which would be the reuse of MOOCs in face-to-face education, which is still operating on a scale and rate of growth that dwarfs MOOCs. The talk draws on experience from Talis software, which includes large numbers of university clients, and tens of millions of leaning resources, but also, as part of the Talis Lighthouse plot, detailed learning analytics from a universal media player. Whereas MOOCs with large quantities of relatively homogeneous data can use standard big data techniques, this traditional university data, which crosses institutional boundaries, and includes vast numbers of relatively small courses, requires different forms of learning analytics.

Looking more generally, this is an example of the 'long tail of small data', which occurs in many other domains, cases where instead of a single very large homogeneous data set, one needs to deal with large numbers of related but heterogeneous data sets often owned and curated by many different individuals.


Keywords: MOOC, massive open online course, online learning, learning analytics, UX, user experence, HCI, human-computer interaction


a bit about MOOCs: past, present and future from Alan Dix


Related Publications

  1. A. Dix (2016). Challenge and Potential of Fine Grain, Cross-Institutional Learning Data. L@S: Third Annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale, ACM (in press). doi: 10.1145/2876034.2893429 || full paper and links
  2. A. Dix (2016). More than one way to flip a class: learning analytics for mixed models of learning. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 8(12). doi: 10.21100/compass.v8i12.275 || full paper and links
  3. A. Dix (2016) Connecting: the Semantic HCI Textbook and Cross-Institutional Learning Analytics. EAI Endorsed Transactions on Ambient Systems 16(9): e5. doi: 10.4108/eai.23-8-2016.151640
  4. A. Dix (2015). Reuse of MOOCs: bringing online content back to the classroom. Alt-C 2015. abstract and links



Alan's video 'studio'

low cost video production


Talis Lighthous pilot mobile media player

Talis Lighthous pilot (mobile verson)



multiple scales of heterigeneity in universoty educational data

the challenges of learning analytics given massive heterogeneity















Alan Dix 9/3/2017