An annual report by The Open University said the current key challenge for education specialists is to engage thousands of learners in productive discussions while learning in a collaborative, online environment.
The report, Innovating Pedagogy 2014, is the third annual report concerning technological trends that could revolutionize education. It suggests that the next step in the world of MOOCs is to introduce massive open social learning.
"Recent Moocs have taken an instructivist approach, with course materials created by a university and delivered by video and textâ¦it can be a lonely experience," it says. "There is more that can be done to engage people as active learners, sharing their ideas and discussing their different perspectives as they learn online."
Mike Sharples, a co-author of the report and chair in educational technology at The Open University Institute of Educational Technology, said the the big question to be answered is to find out "what sort of pedagogies get better as you scale."
"If you can manage learning so that people are really connecting with others' perspectives, then the more people there are, the better the learning gets," he theorised.
Silicon Valley startup Coursera is beginning to consider offering its users the option of engaging in intimate online discussions with the university professors that teach their MOOCs, much in the same way as Google Hangouts operates.
"Down the road, we'll probably go to a premium layer that you could pay for that would give you live interaction with a professor by video or something like that—a seminar within a MOOC," CEO Rick Levin told WIRED.
The company currently runs 845 MOOCs through 128 universities, with the goal of increasing those courses with direct discussions.
While the courses are free to take, Coursera makes its money by charging users for certificates that show they have completed a course. Levin said that users will also be charged to participate in the online video seminars with professors. "We think higher-touch interaction will appeal to some people," Levin says. "It's a way to get some money out of the lifelong-learner population, as opposed to the career builder."
Meanwhile, universities across the country are participating more and more in the world of MOOCs. Cornell University recently expanded their online program to include four more programs.
"We want to engage our faculty in efforts like this to want to continue to offer four each year," says Joseph Burns, dean of the University Faculty at Cornell University.
The university offered its first four online courses last spring, enrolling over 55,000 people worldwide.