Rule #1 in the trends industry - you can't have a trend without a descriptive buzzword and/or acronym. MOOC is both a buzzword and an acronym, standing for massive open online courses.
MOOCs are different from traditional online courses in several ways. They are open to anyone, free, generally credit-less and they try to attract as many students as possible. Their lessons/lectures also tend to be short - usually 8-12 minute videos.
The best known of the MOOCs is the Khan Academy. A non-profit with the mission of "a free world-class education for anyone anywhere," they've produced over 3400 short instructional videos anyone can access. They also provide interactive quizzes, teachers guides and other instructional materials so their courses can be used in schools and traditional educational settings.
According to a Forbes article on Khan:
... their videos have been viewed more than 200 million times. The site is used by 6 million unique students each month (about 45 million total over the last 12 months), who have collectively solved more than 750 million problems (about 2 million a day), and the material, which is provided at no cost, is (formally or informally) part of the curriculum in 20,000 classrooms around the world.
Needless to say, colleges are starting to see MOOCs as both an opportunity and a threat. The New York Times article The Year of the MOOC goes deep on what is going on in the MOOC world.
It features three MOOC firms, edX a non-profit working with Harvard, MIT and other major universities; Coursera, a for-profit who is also working with major universities; and Udacity, another for-profit that's focused on short courses in math, sciences and business. All are trying to deliver university level courses to anyone, anytime for free.
MOOCs are part of a broader the education trend towards just in time learning. This is the trend towards having the ability to learn what you want, when you want it. An interesting article on this topic is Just in Time Education: Learning in the Global Information Age. It's still relevant even though the article is over a decade old (the future often takes a long time to change).
We're very excited about just in time learning. For small businesses and entrepreneurs, it provides a way to access to training in ways that used to only be available to much larger organizations. Just in time learning is yet another example of how the Internet is leveling the playing field.