Mechanical MOOC

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= an experiment to find out how to automatically support peer-learning in small groups for very large courses.



"The Mechanical MOOC is a perfect example for a P2PU Labs project. It offers users a way to learn Python, and it’s a great experiment to find out how to automatically support peer-learning in small groups for very large courses.

It’s two things: A massive open online course (MOOC), and an experiment in how to offer these courses.

First, the course: We’re offering an eight-week course called A Gentle Introduction to Python. It is, as it sounds, a course in learning the basics of Python programming.

Second, the approach: Rather than trying to create a platform that structures the end-to-end learning experience, as recent MOOCs have done, we’re taking the best of existing open learning site—content from MIT OpenCourseWare, communities from OpenStudy, exercises by Codecademy—and joining them loosely with a mailing list that will coordinate student activity.

Instead of a professor or university organizing the class, our e-mail scheduler will do it–that’s why it’s mechanical." (


"a group of online-learning ventures is collaborating on a new kind of free class to be offered this fall, known as a mechanical MOOC (for “massive open online course”), that will teach a computer-programming language by patching together existing resources from open-learning sites.

Unlike courses already available online, the new class will not require a traditional instructor, or a large start-up investment.

The new course, “A Gentle Introduction to Python,” will blend content from M.I.T.’s OpenCourseWare, instant-feedback exercises and quizzes from Codecademy, and study groups organized by OpenStudy, and will be coordinated through an e-mail list operated by Peer 2 Peer University.

“The MOOCs that have come out in the last six months are really incredible and have truly moved the needle for online learning, but they are based on very sophisticated central platforms and require significant resources to develop,” Philipp Schmidt, Peer 2 Peer University’s co-founder, said in a statement.

“The mechanical MOOC is an attempt to leverage the power of the open Web, by loosely joining together a set of independent building blocks,” he said.

The mechanical MOOC will not be as tightly structured as the free courses now offered by leading universities like Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera or edX, which have enrolled more than a million students. (While M.I.T. is involved in both edX and the new project, they are separate.)

Unlike edX courses, the mechanical MOOC will not offer a certificate of completion. However, students can earn a badge from Codecademy to document their achievement.

The collaborators say that the components of education — content, community and assessment — all exist online, although not in one place. Combining top sites for each, they say, should result in a course that is as good as the far more costly approach taken by Coursera, edX and others, albeit a less polished experience, where the pieces are not custom-created to fit together neatly. If the first course works, they say, it could spur many more similar offerings.

OpenStudy will provide a forum where all learners in the class can choose to participate in a mass study group, or can be assigned to a study group of 10.

The creators of the mechanical MOOC hope that the new model will help increase the percentage of students who complete their courses.

Currently, only one in 10, or fewer, who sign up for MOOCs make it all the way through, either because they signed up while casually browsing, or because they are unable to keep up with the hours of work required each week.

In the mechanical MOOC, those who fall behind can repeat units where needed and work at their own pace." (

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