Distinguishing online courses from MOOCs still a problem for the media

You’d think I’d be used to it by now. Or maybe it’s still surprising because I presume that popular press would have figured it out by now.

Like many other media outlets, The Economist once again makes the mistake of equating and confusing MOOCs with online courses. If the distinction between MOOCs and online courses is confusing to you, it may help to think of online education as a big circle, online courses as a smaller, interior circle, and MOOCs as an even smaller subset within that:

MOOCs are just a small subset of online courses, which largely represent institutionally-designed online education. Online learning includes all the informal learning that happens everyday. Of course, this isn’t to any scale; in actuality, the online learning circle should fill this Starbucks.


There are good examples of reporting on online education in the popular press — Forbes’s 2014 article by Tom Lindsay, for example, but they are rare. Too many stories in the mainstream media treat online education as if it arrived just a few years ago. Of course, K-20 institutions have been offering fully online courses and programs since the birth of the internet, and largely with great success. As fascinating as MOOCs are, they’re not really what we talk about when we talk about online education.

2 thoughts on “Distinguishing online courses from MOOCs still a problem for the media

  1. Alan Levine

    Much the same way the web gets conflated with the Internet. Don’t have much hopes of the media (that vague monolithic entity) sorting it out.

    Hey, while I have the mic, how about enbaling full content in your RSS feeds? As maybe among the last of users of feed readers, I like scanning the full Monty.

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