MOOC is an acronym: Massive, Open, Online Course. There have been various versions of MOOCs since the 1990s, so they aren’t exactly a new thing. The idea for MOOCs was part of the Open Educational Resource (OER) movement which sought to make use of online connections to share teaching materials. MOOCs started off as, for example, sets of lecture notes, or slides, or even recorded lectures, put together in files and shared online. Of course, as the technology and pedagogy of online learning has developed, MOOCs have become more sophisticated and user friendly. There are a number of big consortiums who are producing and publishing courses: FutureLearn is best known in the UK, but Coursera and Udacity are better known in the United States. Some universities and other teaching and learning organisations also have their own versions of MOOCs, such as, for example, UCLAtv, which has its own ‘station’ on YouTube.

For US•U, none. For most MOOCs, none. However, there are increasing numbers of online courses that a) require evidence of prior learning and b) charge enrolment fees. Us•U only uses free online courses, such as those offered by FutureLearn. It is worth saying, however, that different courses have different educational expectations. Most courses will indicate whether they are introductory (which might be broadly equivalent to foundation level studies – so in some regards closer to GCSE than A Levels, but with an expectation of some basic academic learning skills), intermediate (1st to 2nd year of undergraduate university) or advanced (3rd year undergraduate, or more professional study). To feel comfortable on an introductory MOOC, your reading and comprehension should be at a level that you can understand a longer broadsheet newspaper, or serious magazine or journal article. You will also need to have, or be able to develop, basic online ICT skills: this means you can find a website, locate different pages on a website, and be able to express yourself by typing comments. If you have read and understood this paragraph, and have yourself found the website links to get you to this FAQ page, you should be okay!

Because Us•U is a responsive learning project, it depends on:

  1. What potential students say they want to learn and
  2. When an appropriate MOOC is published.

In other words, if tomorrow 10+ people say they want to study modern art, we will find a user-friendly modern art course starting soon, then email the group to suggest they sign up. We then look at local opportunities for more experiential learning: in this case, what’s on (exhibits/talks) at e.g. the Towner, or Jerwood. We package this together, and set a date to start Us•U meetings.

For the expertise and support of a tutor who understands online learning and its challenges; for the expertise of the academic who will select appropriate, local events or activities to ground your online studies in useful, real experiences; for the behind-the-scenes administration and organisation involved in setting up groups, arranging meeting dates and locations; and for the cost of the technology, websites and designers of the Us•U operations.

On average, groups meet face to face once a week. However, if there is an activity or event scheduled, then a group might meet twice in one week, but then not necessarily meet the next week.

Weekly meetings will normally last about an hour and a half. Events and activities will, of course, vary enormously.

Optimum group numbers depend on the type of subject being studied, so it is difficult to say. However, groups are unlikely to run with fewer than six students and, with a very few possible exceptions, more than twenty. For most study groups, you can expect to meet with around 8-12 students.

Most groups will meet on weekday evenings, 7.30-9.00 or 8.00-9.30, depending on venue availability, but if there is interest in daytime meetings for a particular course, that can be arranged.

Most groups will meet in pubs, but where special equipment or resources are needed, other venues, such as rooms at the college, or – we hope – the education room at the Depot, will be hired.

Having worked for the Open University in various capacities, and having a passion for lifelong learning, Dr Wendy Maples knew there was fantastic potential for informal learners to take advantage of online learning. She also knew – from her own experience, and that of friends and family – that more often than not courses started with good intentions were never completed. With an MA in Online and Distance learning, and over 20 years of OU blended teaching and learning experience, Dr Maples knew it was entirely possible to make MOOC experiences better and more enjoyable through what’s called ‘social learning’ – learning in groups – and ideally, local groups. The University of Us was devised by Dr Maples as a way of connecting the potential of free, online education, with interesting local activities and, though putting both together, supporting local people to enjoy informal learning.

There are different definitions of informal learning, but for our purposes, it means non-accredited learning, outside of a formal, college or university structure.

No. The University of Us is designed strictly to support informal learning; the courses are not accredited and Us•U has no designs on developing as a formal education provider. However, it may be possible to gain a certificate of completion on some of the online courses that we utilise in our groups. This is completely separate from Us•U activity.

You should bring enough money for a drink and, should you wish, a snack (assuming these are available at the venue). Bring a notebook and pens. You may wish to bring a laptop or iPad, so you can access your online course – particularly if you are ‘stuck’ on a section, or have a specific question. Most of all, however, you should bring your enthusiasm for the subject and your keen interest in developing your own learning and the learning of others.