The word mooc sounds a bit like slang from Goodfellas or the affectionate shortening of the already-affectionate name of a former outfielder for the New York Mets. In fact, a MOOC is a new kind of college-like experience that seems to possess the magical power to turn some of the smartest people in academia into followers of a faith-based cult because they want to become its idols.
MOOC stands for “massive open online course.” The term was coined by a group of Canadian academics in 2008 to represent a recently invented type of online class that depends upon small group interactions for most of the instruction. More recently, three instructors in the Stanford University computer science department appropriated that term to start two separate private education companies, Udacity and Coursera. Despite being free of charge, the MOOCs that these firms offer bear a more-than-passing resemblance to ordinary college classes—except they are delivered over the Internet to tens of thousands of people at once.