What is a MOOC?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent a young paradigm of e-learning within the higher-education sector, which has become more and more popular and widespread since 2011. For a better understanding of the term MOOC we would like to start with spelling out this acronym.

  • Massive: Potentially thousands or even ten-thousands of people participate, which means a highly scalable mode of teaching from the viewpoint of an instructor. There is a huge diversity with respect to geographical, cultural or biographical background among participants, which results in multiple perspectives and ideas within the learning community.
  • Open: Everybody can participate as long as he or she has a sufficient internet connection and a valid e-mail address. There are no formal or institutional access hurdles. Participation in the course is for free.
  • Online: Participation is conducted completely online and so is the course maintenance by the teaching staff. Modern web technologies enable access to multimedia learning resources, working on tasks to apply one's knowledge and interaction between participants within a virtual learning community. All these features are browser-based without the need to install multiple applications on one's local machine.
  • Courses: Some structural elements from the traditional education setting are preserved, other aspects differ completely: In most MOOCs there is an official starting and closing date and typically a new chapter is released each week. This provides some structure to ensure all learners are on the same page. In sharp contrast to the traditional lecture setting, within a specific week learners are free to choose when (in the morning, late at night?) and where (at the breakfast table, while commuting to work, or in the library?) they spend their time to browse the learning resources and work on tasks. They communicate asynchronously with the other participants to discuss the content and help each other with open questions. Curriculum design emphasizes breaking down each chapter into smaller chunks of information about specific concepts. Participants receive instant and automated feedback about one's knowledge acquisition.

To sum it up, MOOCs are a low-threshold (since web based and without any access hurdles) and flexible (learning independent from time and location) mode of learning within the higher education or vocational training sector - and an excellent opportunity for life-long learners.

In contrast to more traditional modes of e-learning, which in essence have often been used simply for distributing text-based learning materials, a MOOC emphasizes usage of multimedia resources like videos, animations and info graphics, enables quizzes for instant feedback and allows interaction within a diverse global learning community. Just going online is not a sufficient criterion for high-quality teaching and learning. But designing a MOOC within an integrated online platform allows to bring up the fundamental question about what a good learning experience consists in and to carefully examine the learning process.

The MOOC Experience at openHPI

openHPI is the MOOC platform of the Hasso Plattner Institute. On openHPI you take part in a worldwide social learning network based on interactive online courses covering different subjects in Information and Communications Technology (ICT). The courses at openHPI range from topics like internet security and offering programming workshops for beginners to more complex classes about latest developments in database technologies for advanced learners. All these topics reflect the fields of research Hasso Plattner Institute is renowned for.

Taking a MOOC at openHPI involves the following features:

  • Using a bunch of short videos each week the professor explains theoretical concepts and their interrelation and demonstrates how to apply the knowledge.
  • Self-tests are integrated with every learning unit and enable the learner to get direct feedback about his or her understanding of the acquired concepts.
  • Programming tasks support the application of theoretical knowledge and foster skill development.
  • Peer assessment allows the teaching team to ask open questions and to integrate practical tasks which can hardly be graded automatically. The evaluation is done by other course participants by means of given grading rubrics. Peer assessment on openHPI can be either structured as an individual peer assessment (work is submitted by every participant individually) or in a team (team peer assessment).
  • Communication within the course forum or smaller online learning groups also supports the learning process: Within a MOOC setting with thousands of participants the professor cannot communicate with the students on an individual level. But it is quite probable that another course member will have a good answer to open questions. And (flipping around the perspective) explaining to others in one's own words requires elaborating the deep structure of the content and thus promotes deeper understanding.
  • All those participants committed to get a Record of Achievement additionally work on weekly homework and participate in a final exam.

openHPI Certificates

Those who complete an openHPI course can gain various types of certificates:

  • Confirmation of Participation
    The Confirmation of Participation is given to those who have accessed at least 50% of the course material. The duration and intensity of the processing of the course materials are irrelevant.
  • Record of Achievement
    The Record of Achievement is awarded to those who have achieved at least 50% of the maximum number of points in the sum of all graded assignments.
  • Qualified Certificate
    The Qualified Certificate, unlike the other certificates issued by HPI for openHPI courses, has a photo of the participant printed on it. The participant has agreed to online proctoring during homework and the final exam via webcam. By means of this technique, we verify that the registered participant takes the homework and the final exam in person.
  • Granting of ECTS Points
    The Hasso Plattner Institute estimates that the workload for a 6-week openHPI course is 2 semester hours (SWS). HPI recommends granting 2 ECTS points for a Qualified Certificate.


openHPI Research

openHPI benefits from our many years of research activities and a large catalog of top-notch publications in the field of MOOCs, whereby the team focuses on the following topics.

Collaborative Learning, Team Work and Peer Assessment in MOOCs

Generally, participants are learning on their own in MOOCs. On openHPI, we have implemented several approaches to allow more collaboration between the participants in courses. The most general feature in this context is the course forum, where participants can discuss with other participants and the teaching team. More sophisticated features are the Collab Spaces, the Team Builder, and the Peer Assessment. The Collab Spaces allow the participants to create small groups within the general course population. Teaching teams can use the Team Builder to automate the process of creating such groups or teams according to special criteria, such as the participants' time zone or time commitment. The teaching teams can also provide open-end tasks to individual participants or such teams, which in the end can be graded via so-called Peer Assessments, where participants are reviewing and grading the work of their peers. All of these features have been provided successfully in several courses on our platforms.

Learning Analytics and Self-Regulated Learning in MOOCs

The vast amount of data that MOOCs produce on the learning behavior and success of thousands of students provides the opportunity to study human learning and develop approaches to support learning and teaching with data-driven insights. For openHPI, a learning analytics architecture to collect, process, and analyze event-driven learning data based on schema-agnostic pipelining has been introduced. On this basis, a dashboard for learners has been developed to support self-regulated learning, in particular to enable learners to evaluate and plan their learning activities, progress, and success by themselves. Additionally, personalized learning objectives are provided to better connect learners' success to their intentions, offer guidance, and align the data-driven insights about their learning progress. Furthermore, a dashboard for teachers has been realized to enable the monitoring of their courses with thousands of learners, identify potential issues, and take informed action. These are key tools and integral parts of the learning and teaching experience on the HPI MOOC platform.

Mobile (Seamless) Learning in MOOCs

As mobile devices have become ubiquitous in our daily lives, learning with MOOCs no longer needs to be tied to a stationary learning environment. Learners can access the learning material provided whenever and wherever they want. Therefore, an appropriate learning environment must be provided on mobile devices. The learning experience has to be adapted to the shorter usage times of mobile devices. This includes leaner interaction patterns compared to those of a full-featured web application, and the development of learning experiences that work well on smaller screens and even with multiple screens simultaneously. By using proactive interventions (e.g., via push notifications), short learning activities can be triggered and thus enable learning on the go. While mobile devices offer learners an additional degree of freedom in designing their learning process, providing appropriate learning experiences also presents new challenges. Mobile devices can also be used in places with no or poor internet connection. In these cases, the learning material must be made available on mobile devices—manually or with smart automatic approaches.

Gameful Learning in MOOCs

Gameful learning describes the use of games or game mechanics for learning purposes. Applying gameful learning designs to a learning scenario can foster three effects: the students' understanding, their motivation, and the social interaction between learners. In this research, we aim at finding out how gameful learning designs can be used at the HPI MOOC platform, especially to foster ice-breaking situations and improve social interaction.

Automated Evaluation of Programming Exercises

The focus of our platform is on IT topics, which include programming courses in different programming languages. An important element of these courses is graded hands-on programming assignments. MOOCs, even more than traditional classroom situations, depend on automated solutions to assess programming exercises. Manual evaluation is not an option due to the massive amount of users that participate in these courses. Therefore, we have investigated and developed two tools in this context at the HPI: CodeOcean, an auto-grader for a variety of programming languages, and CodeHarbor, a tool to share auto-gradable programming exercises between various online platforms. In our ongoing research, we investigate various assistance features for learners (such as contextual tips or tailored help offers) and introduce novices to software engineering practices (e.g., a linter, pair programming, or debugging techniques). Further, we analyze the requirements of course instructors to create auto-gradable programming exercises, explore practical tooling support for them to ease the exercise creation, and thus lower the barrier to using them.

Dialogue-Based Systems for Learners and Instructors in MOOCs

Dialogue-based systems, also known as chatbots, offer a diverse toolbox that goes beyond a simple question-and-answer system. This research explores various elements that can be integrated into the chatbot to facilitate learning and teaching with MOOCs for learners and instructors. Important elements include personalized support, integrated quizzes, recommendations for further learning and reading materials, as well as courses. The extent to which this toolbox helps users is measured, among other things, by the number of support tickets and feedback in the chatbot dialog.

Synchronous Learning through Live Streaming in MOOCs

With increasing popularity and viewership, live streaming has quickly found its place in online pop culture and informal learning environments. The synchronous classroom is also a viable application: Interacting with learners in real-time, clarifying issues in online office hours, or offering academic content to a public audience are all possible use cases. In the context of MOOCs, live streaming can also foster a sense of community and emphasize learning as a social process. Research questions include the benefits of synchronous learning environments as measured by pre- and post-session communication and the level of interaction within a live session (e.g., the average number of participants, number of chat messages).

Exploring Learner Activity Data to Provide Insights for Teacher Analytics in MOOCs

The HPI MOOC platform uses independent Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) providers such as H5P as an extension tool for conducting evaluation and exercise inside the platform. We aim to explore how the learners' activities can benefit the teachers by examining the collected learning activity data, structuring the different types of interaction, and providing the teachers with an analytics interface. To build a meaningful analytics tool, we apply a user-centered process to understand the requirements and deliver functionalities to aid teachers in evaluating their course content and exercises.

Integrating JupyterHub and a Traffic Management System in MOOCs

The past few years have witnessed significant growth in the number of users attending online courses. Currently, there is an enormous amount of interest in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) and what these new technologies can create for the present and future. To truly learn the necessary skills to explore the world of AI, one needs the right set of learning tools and more importantly, resources. JupyterHub and Jupyter notebooks have exploded in popularity since late 2014. Moreover, it has become a very useful learning tool to program and solve assignments in a well-structured, supportive environment. When it comes to MOOCs, thousands of users could attend a certain course and as resources are not infinite, creating a dynamic scheduler for resource allocation and traffic management would help create a balanced learning environment where each student has access to a learning tool but also enough resources to practice.


Our Partners

While we offer our own courses about IT topics on openHPI our well-developed technical platform is also used by other MOOC initiatives: On openSAP there are different courses for vocational training; in 2015, Hasso Plattner Institute set up the platform mooc.house to give interested companies and institutions the possibility to offer their own courses. For the World Health Organization (WHO), Hasso Plattner Institute provides another instance of the same infrastructure called OpenWHO. WHO uses this interactive knowledge-transfer platform to offer online courses to improve the response to health emergencies.

Our Projects

  • KI-Campus: The aim of the BMBF project is to strengthen AI skills in Germany through digital learning opportunities at an academic level. For this purpose, the HPI is transforming its existing MOOC platform, which has been tried and tested for years, into an open source project and is expanding it by integrating AI-driven features in order to train and develop a broad spectrum of interested parties in Germany in the field of AI. The pilot online learning offers for AI are open to both students and lifelong learners.
  • CORSHIP - Corporate EDUpreneurship: The EU-funded CORSHIP project strives to establish a common language between companies, start-ups and universities and to promote their cooperation in Europe, in order to successfully exploit the full potential of corporate entrepreneurship across sectors and industries. As one of the 6 partners, the openHPI team is leading the development, implementation and evaluation of the MOOC "Corporate Entrepreneurship”.
  • BizMOOC: The BizMOOC project aims to strengthen innovation capacity in all parts of Europe through the creation of common standards and frameworks that promote MOOCs for workplace teaching & training, the acquisition of labour market-relevant skills and entrepreneurial activity.


Awards for Our MOOC Platforms

Other Links

... to our Research
              Security Engineering - Learning & Knowledge Tech - Design Thinking - former
... to our Teaching
              Tele-Lectures - MOOCs - Labs - Systems 
... to our Publications
              Books - Journals - Conference-Papers - Patents
... and to our Annual Reports.