Preliminary study on MOOC «massive open online courses»


What’s it all about?
MOOC, acronym for Massive Open Online Courses, are university level courses available to everyone on the Web. A MOOC is free, and follows a periodic timetable, whereby the content unfolds week by week with a training programme (date-limited both for viewing the content and for taking the tests). Another feature of a MOOC is that the end of each week of training is concluded with a test as part of a process of continuous monitoring, and this must be validated by a final examination. Depending on the models, the assignments are corrected by students among themselves, by the tutors or automatically. Online interactivity between students is another characteristic of MOOC.

Initial assessments
Stakeholders have conflicting views of MOOC. Some of them regard MOOC as a major upheaval, capable of revolutionising the present educational system at the level of both initial and continuing education, while others consider them to be one simple teaching aid among others that belong to the e-learning family. To what extent can MOOC be distinguished from e-learning, and what can these courses learn from past experiences? MOOC are also often presented as a tool for democratising education, because a virtually unlimited number of students can participate in a course, especially students from developing countries who have only restricted access to quality higher education. Nevertheless, initial survey feedback shows that most of the students who follow a MOOC come from industrialised countries. Can MOOC facilitate a digital revolution in developing countries?

Why conduct a TA-SWISS study on this subject?
MOOC are a phenomenon of great significance for the media. They reach many people, and the number of courses on offer is constantly increasing. The national and international scope of MOOC questions and catalyses the economic, social, cultural and educational challenges for higher education and for lifelong training.
In this context, TA-SWISS has decided to launch a preliminary study, an x-ray picture of MOOC, which will bring to light the TA challenges appropriate to this type of social technology from an interdisciplinary and forward-looking perspective.

Aims of the study
This preliminary study is to provide a general survey of developments in the field of MOOC and analyse their future development by highlighting the opportunities and risks for higher and continuing education. It is particularly important to differentiate the stated ambitions of promoters of MOOC and the reality of the proposed courses. The study has to respond to the following questions:

  • What is the true extent (current and future) of the MOOC phenomenon in Switzerland and around the world, and what are its main characteristics?
  • Who are the stakeholders involved, and what are their motivations (at international level, at Swiss level?)
  • What impact (positive/negative) is there on the educational landscape in Switzerland, and how can MOOC be officially integrated into the present system?
  • What is the political role (at federal and cantonal level) with regard to MOOC? Does the regulatory framework governing education in Switzerland have to be adapted? and/or completed? Are there other aspects which must be taken into consideration?


What is the procedure?

The preliminary study will involve the formulation of prospective scenarios about MOOC and will be done on the basis of an analysis of documentary sources and a review of the scientific literature, and will conduct a survey among representatives of stakeholder groups in Switzerland and other countries.


The preliminary study was carried out from February 2015 to August 2015


Results and downloads


Despite the fact that the subject of MOOC is a very interesting one, and the preliminary study report has yielded a lot of fascinating information, it appears that this topic is more an educational policy issue (Bildungspolitik). This subject does not therefore offer enough of the criteria required for a TA-SWISS study.

Final report (French)


Supported by

  • Centre for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS

TA-SWISS Project Supervisors

Project mandataries

  • Prof. Dr. Bernadette Charlier, Centre de Didactique universitaire de Fribourg.
  • Dr. Nathalie Deschryver, Centre de didactique universitaire de Fribourg

Supervisory group

  • Dr. Hanna Muralt-Müller, FSFA Fondation suisse pour la formation par l’audiovisuel
  • Dr. Sabine Felder, Leiterin Koordination Lehre, CRUS
  • Prof. Abraham Bernstein, Universität Zürich, Institut für Informatik
  • Prof. Dr. Alberto Bondolfi, Université de Genève
  • Heidi Blattmann, science journalist, Zurigo




Related links
Yearbook “Quality of the Media”, Research Institute for the Public Sphere and Society / University of Zürich (

The project in brief

The emergence of MOOC reached a peak in 2012, and their rollout is far from complete. While there are many publications in the press, on social networks and the internet, and these have developed rapidly, scientific publications are only just starting to appear, and there are a great many unresolved questions. The preliminary study will illustrate the TA issues pertinent to this type of social technology from an interdisciplinary and forward-looking perspective.

Project: January 2015 to July 2015

Project management: Prof. Dr. Bernadette Charlier, Centre de Didactique universitaire de Fribourg