The hot new thing in higher education is online, open to everyone — and free, Club Member Dr. Jim Rose, Director of Wyoming's Community College Commission, told the club Oct. 8.

They’re called MOOCs, which is short for “massive open online course.” (It’s pronounced “mook” and rhymes with “Duke.”) According to an article in an online newspaper; "These online courses are taught by top professors at some of the world’s best-known universities. Millions of people with the desire to learn have logged into a MOOC.

A MOOC is a lot like a college class, and there’s a MOOC in just about every subject.

An instructor — usually a college professor but sometimes not — lectures and gives tests and class assignments. The difference here is that the lectures are on video, all class work is done online, and students discuss class topics on online forums. Some MOOCs use students to grade other students’ work; other MOOCs grade quizzes automatically or don’t give grades at all.

MOOCs usually run between four and 12 weeks. Some start and stop on a fixed schedule, while others are self-paced.

Students who pass a MOOC might get a certificate that says they completed the course.

Students don’t need to apply to take a MOOC. All they need is a computer, an Internet connection, some free time and a desire to learn.

The players

Two computer science professors at Stanford University founded Coursera( in 2012. In just over a year, the catalog of the for-profit company has grown to more than 450 courses, 91 U.S. and international university partners, and 4 million students worldwide.

Udacity ( grew out of a course that two Stanford University professors put online in 2011. (“Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” attracted 160,000 students from more than 190 countries.) This for-profit company offers 28 courses, mostly in computer science and mathematics.

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched EdX( in 2012. This not-for-profit venture offers 75 courses from 29 high-profile American and international universities.

Hedge fund manager (and MIT graduate) Salman Khan launched Khan Academy( in 2008 after posting YouTube math tutorials online to help his niece and other family members. The not-for-profit now has more than 4,800 short instructional videos online, most of them narrated by Khan. The company claims 6 million unique users per month and said it has delivered more than 300 million lessons.

The cost

Most MOOCs are free. A few charge for selected courses. Coursera students can pay up to $90 to get a certificate saying they completed a course.

Because they don’t charge tuition, most MOOC providers are surviving on venture capital or university support.