ExtensionEngine Blog

xMOOC vs cMOOC? A glossary of common MOOC terms part 2

As part of our effort to orient those for whom MOOCs are relevant, we have begun compiling a list of terms in the rapidly expanding fields of education and technology related to MOOCs. Our first list was a big hit. Below is our second list of terms for our growing glossary.

xMOOC: Stephen Downes, co-founder of one of the first MOOCs, coined this term in 2012 to create a distinction in MOOCs in this category from what he termed ‘cMOOCs’. xMOOCs are based on traditional university courses. An advantage of xMOOCs is that they significantly broaden the number of students who can be exposed to university-level courses. Critics of xMOOCs, however, argue that xMOOCs are inferior to the university courses they mimic because they eliminate teacher-student interactions and involve limited student-student interactions. Platforms like edX, Coursera, and Udacity provide xMOOCs.

cMOOC: Stephen Downes, co-founder of one of the first MOOCs, coined this term in 2012 to create a distinction in MOOCs in this category from what he termed ‘xMOOCs’. The ‘c’ in cMOOC stands for ‘connectivist.’ which represents the nature of cMOOCs. Rather than being delivered by an individual instructor, as in traditional university courses, cMOOCs involve groups of people learning together. cMOOCs often include blogs, learning communities, and social media platforms that contain content and promote interaction. In this environment, participants are all considered teachers and learners, which stands in contrast to the structure of xMOOCs, where each individual is either a student or a teacher.


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A/B Testing: A/B testing is the term that describes the process of assessing differential effects of two separate ‘treatment conditions.’ With MOOC development, A/B testing allows instructors and researchers to determine which one of two courses or which one of two separate implementations of a course are more effective in meeting specific goals, such as student engagement or performance.

Blended Learning: Blended learning refers to educational approaches that use both traditional classroom settings and online resources. Proponents of blended learning point out that blended learning can capitalize on advantageous aspects of both the intimacy and interaction in the traditional classroom and also the unique learning tools afforded by modern technology.

Instructional Design Services: Instructional design is the systematic development of instructional specifications using learning and instructional theory to ensure the quality of instruction.  This work can be sold as a service, in case the organization producing the online learning program does not have these resources in house.

Flipped Classroom: In the flipped classroom, students learn content before class, through online lectures. This exercise replaces what used to be time spent doing homework. During the day, in class, students do problems and are therefore able to get more guidance from instructors on the actual application of the material associated with the course. Advocates of flipped learning point to the modified role of the teachers when this strategy is employed. Rather than interacting only with students who ask questions in the traditional classroom, instructors interact with all students in a flipped classroom. This technique is a type of blended learning. The flipped classroom is a type of blended learning ad is also known as the backwards classroom or inverted classroom.

LTI: LTI is an acronym for "learning tools interoperability". LTI was built to in response to the complexity associated with building online courses. Because different platforms offer different options and resources, course developers may want to use pieces offered by different platforms. LTI allows for this type of mix-and-match function during course building so that students can use one site for their course that integrates information from multiple platforms. The downside to this approach is that LTI does not change the appearance of tools provided by different platforms, which can make the look of the site inconsistent.

SCORM: SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, which was created as part of the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense’s Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative and defines standards and specifications for e-learning.

Cognitive Load: Cognitive load refers to the amount of attention and cognitive resources required for the consideration or solution of a problem. Executive functioning and working memory are thought to be the primary functions of cognitive load, and resources related to these functions are limited in the brain. Cognitive load is important in education and particularly in the MOOC movement because taking into account cognitive load during course design can significantly improve course efficacy. Specifically, presenting material in a manner that reduces cognitive load for students while allowing them to grasp new information and concepts, can improve learning by reducing cognitive load. Perhaps the best known and most widely implemented research on cognitive load has shown that the average person can remember only seven “chunks” of information (such as the seven digits of a local phone number) in the short-term. Thus, bombarding students with more information is not likely to be helpful, but providing less is not particularly efficient.

edX: edX is a platform for online learning that provides MOOCs. It was founded as a non-profit with open-source software in 2012 by MIT and Harvard University. In addition to hosting a number of free online university courses, edX also analyzes data on its use to contribute to broad research efforts in mechanisms of learning and MOOC optimization.

Coursera: Coursera is a for-profit platform for online courses developed by Stanford University’s Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The courses on Coursera are often adapted from existing university courses by professors and Coursera staff. Coursera MOOCs span a range of disciplines and are available through a mobile app.

Udacity: Udacity is a for-profit organization developed by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsy that offers MOOCs. Udacity originally focused on technology and science courses that were presented in a traditional university-type structure. However, that focus has shifted to courses intended for professionals.

FutureLearn: FutureLearn is a platform developed by the UK’s Open University in 2012 that delivers MOOCs. It partners with British universities and aims to engage a British audience with a British-oriented version of a MOOC platform. Like Coursera, FutureLearn provides courses from a wide range of disciplines.

Canvas: Canvas is a network developed by an education technology company called Instructure. Canvas provides open online courses that are provided by institutions all over the world. It provides a platform for teachers and students to connect and build and use educational resources.


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Creative Commons: Creative Commons is a non-profit organization that promotes the sharing of copyrighted works through free legal licenses. It was founded by Lawrence Lessig, Hal Abelson, and Eric Eldred in 2001. With Creative Commons, creators can structure the ways that their work can be shared by others, and people can choose works to license based on the works themselves and the specific rights they receive from the license. The effect Creative Commons has had on the use and law surrounding intellectual property has been met with both praise and criticism. Those championing Creative Commons applaud the enhanced access at reduced prices, while those against the organization claim it may ruin the foundations of our copyright system and stifle creativity by reducing motivation to create works that will generate little revenue for the creator.

Gamification: Gamification refers to the strategy of presenting information in a manner that is entertaining to enhance engagement and the ease with which information is attended to and learned. Gamification is relevant for learning in general but is particularly important as MOOCs are developed because MOOC technology presents a new opportunity to gamify content in a way that the traditional classroom is unable to. Gamification capitalizes on the human aspects of reward to make learning more enjoyable and increase motivation to do exercises required for content mastery.

Informal Learning: Informal learning, as opposed to formal learning, does not involve specific objectives or structure. Instead, informal learning refers to a more passive type of learning that often occurs through experience and in unplanned ways. Making education feel more informal, as can be the case with gamification, may be an effective strategy for improving student performance.

STEM: STEM is an acronym for ‘science, technology, engineering, and mathematics’. A similar term is MINT, which refers to mathematics, information sciences, natural sciences, and technology. ‘STEM’ is most often used in discussions on education policy in response to the perceived lack of participation in technological careers, despite the increase in open positions in relevant fields.