MOOCs Observatory – Origins

What Was the First MOOC?

by Cathy Davidson, September 27, 2013

Did you know that the first MOOC-like massive, open, online course was offered by HASTAC in 2006-2007?

Of course, many insist that it was Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig who developed the first MOOC in 2011 when they taught their artificial intelligence course at Stanford that drew 160,000 online registrants.  Others go back to 2008 when Stephen Downes and George Siemens mounted  an online course partly to prove that you could do connectivist open learning via a digital platform.   As a recent article in Slate  notes,  connectivist learning theory “draws  from neuroscience and computer networking” and “postulates that knowledge is distributed across human and nonhuman nodes in a network. Downes and Siemens argue that in the 21st century, education is the ability to navigate this network, link disparate fields, and contribute to the understanding of other people.”

Actually, drawing from similar connectivist principles, HASTAC ran a MOOC (no one knew term back then:  David Cormier hadn’t invented it yet!) that we estimated reached well over 100,000 people over the course of 2006-2007.  It was more like an ur-MOOC since you didn’t receive credit from taking the public offerings by each university that was offering its own onsite as well as its online components.

Instead, we mounted a complex, coordinated, paced, syncrhonized and successful In/Formation Year, where about  twenty different universities coordinated a full year of public, free, online programing designed to encourage participants to think about all the aspects of the Web that connects seemingly disparate aspects of the university and society.   The In/Formation Year mounted  webcast lectures and courses, events, seminars, and conferences, each with a different “In-” theme each month (in common, in community, interplay, interaction, injustice, integration, invitation, interface, innovation).  You can find out more about this historic year here:

We didn’t call it a MOOC.  But it was massive, open, online . . . and connectivist.   The point was to challenge students and faculty across disciplies and institutions and in the community as well to join together to think through the basic ideas of information, networks, connection, and learning.   Others are claiming to be “first” too, and the whole idea of a “first” is typically pretty specious, but it is interesting to look back and see that many of us were already thinking about new ways to bring learning to more people, not as a top-down and hierarchical activity but as a form of peer-to-peer and expert learning exchange.

One of the leaders of our InFormation Year was Anne Balsamo, a HASTAC founding member, and one of the leaders of this Fall 2013’s amazing FemTechNet DOCC (Distributed Open Collaborative Course), another brilliant and innovative learning model.

We’ll be doing it again on an even more massive scale starting this January:   This one is more like a meta-MOOC, designed to probe all the different ways to learn and think, online and off.    Join us in taking back the MOOC!

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