Education Technology Trends - Part I - Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

This is the first post of a three-part series covering recent trends and developments in education technology. Check out part two here.

At the time of this writing, there are 197 APIs listed in the Education Category of the ProgrammableWeb API Directory. A few of the leading APIs in this category include Khan Academy, Edmodo and Schoology.

There have been a lot of exciting and ground-breaking developments in education technology in recent years. Some of these recent and growing trends include:

  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
  • Learning Management and Learning Content Management Systems (LMS and LCMS)
  • Education Marketplaces
  • Adaptive Learning
  • Integration with Legacy Systems

This first post of the three-part series includes information about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses


A massive open online course (MOOC) is an online course that features large-scale interactive participation and open access through the web. MOOCs are a recent trend in distance education with some MOOCs offering traditional calendar-based course schedules while others offer "learn at your own pace" courses. The features and meaning of a MOOC is currently in a state of flux and there are currently no widely accepted standards or practices established in the MOOC industry.

Stephen Downes, a Researcher at the National Research Council (Canada), has proposed the terms "cMOOC" and "xMOOC" to define the two basic types of MOOCs that have been emerging in the education industry. A cMOOC focuses on community and connectivism. An xMOOC is defined as focusing on scalability providing courses that are not part of the core offering but are extensions of the core.

What is a MOOC

Poster, entitled "MOOC, every letter is negotiable," exploring the meaning of the words "Massive Open Online Course" - Image Credit: Mathieu Plourde, Creative Commons License (CC)

Not only are today's MOOCs using cutting-edge technology to create innovative online learning platforms and provide a wealth of educational content, many are also providing developers access to MOOC platforms, features and content via code repositories and APIs. Here are a few examples of MOOCs that provide developers access to their online education platforms.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy started back in 2006 as instructional videos posted on YouTube by founder Salman Khan. Khan Academy become an official not-for-profit educational organization in 2008 and currently features a Library of over 4,500 instructional videos on topics such as Math, Science, Economics, Humanities, and many other subjects. The official mission of Khan Academy is "to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere."

There is a Khan Academy API available that provides developers programmatic access to nearly all types of Khan Academy data categorized by Playlists. Data that can be accessed using the Khan Academy API includes specific video information, individual playlists (Algebra, Biology, etc) and information about Badges.


Founded in May 2012 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, EdX is a not-for-profit organization that offers a variety of interactive, massive open online classes. At the time of this writing, 27 leading global institutions contribute to EdX and are members of the xConsortium.

In June 2013, EdX announced the release of the entire EdX Platform via open source license. The Open EdX platform is available via GitHub and the code for specific components includes the core EdX Learning Management System, the course authoring tool Studio and the XBlock API which is used to integrate interactive learning objects.

Rob Rubin, Vice President of Engineering for EdX, states in the press release that:

"One of the founding principles of edX was the creation of a learning platform as an open source project. We are pleased that our development team met our commitment to release the Source Code 'as is' on June 1. We are an open source initiative because we think the community can help us dramatically improve the product, and we expect that there are teams who can collaborate with us to experiment with and evolve the teaching and learning experience. We look forward to the impact that expanding the edX platform developer community will have in the future."


LearnZillion is an online professional development platform that provides teachers with a digital curriculum and the tools needed to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). LearnZillion was founded by Eric Westendorf and Alix Guerrier in 2011 and currently provides Common Core lessons, assessments, and activities created by the top teachers across the United States.

There is a LearnZillion API available that provides 3rd party RESTlike API access to the platform and allows developers to integrate LearnZillion functions into web and mobile applications. The API is still in development with features such as HTTPS, OAuth and Versioning to be added in the near future.


Coursera, an education company that offers over 420 massive open online courses, was founded in April 2012 by Stanford University Computer Science Professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller. The courses offered at Coursera are free and provided by a large group of partners which include some of the top universities such as Duke, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Rutgers, Stanford and Yale.

Although Coursera does not currently have an API or a developer program, in July 2013 the organization announced that $43M in Series B funding had been closed from GSV Capital, Laureate Education Inc, Learn Capital and venture capitalist Yuri Milner. According to the press release, the funding will be used to expand Coursera's online teaching capacity and Coursera will be focusing on technological developments and strategic expansions which includes "opening up Coursera to the development of third party applications to allow the construction of a rich learning ecosystem for students and instructors."

The Next Post

The second post in this three-part series, features information about Learning Management Systems (LMS), Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS), and Education Marketplaces.

Be sure to read the next Education article: Education Technology Trends - Part II - LMS and LCMS, Education Marketplaces