Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)

Raising human awareness and building capacity about outer space field is essential to attain this vision. MOOCs are particularly well suited to address these ambitions for multiple reasons. Firstly, most MOOCs can be audited1 free of charge and are accessible to anyone with an internet connection. For those eager to obtain a certificate, price per course range between 41 to 92 euros on most platforms (2018 data).  Furthermore, majority of courses on outer space topics are offered at introductory level and have no other prerequisites than high school level mathematics and physics knowledge. Moreover, well-known MOOCs platforms such as Coursera, EdX and Future Learn (The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2012) offer intuitive and user-friendly interfaces so even the users with limited digital skills can easily join the MOOCs. Additionally, search engines such as “MOOC-list” provides an overview of available MOOCs across different platforms.  
Secondly, a wide variety of providers offer their courses on MOOCs platforms including ivy league higher education institutions (e.g. MIT), space agencies (e.g. ESA) and research centers (e.g. UNITAR). Thus, many high-quality courses are available, examining the space topics from different angles. Thirdly, MOOCs employ interactive methods and self-paced learning to cover the material. Finally, MOOCs have no limits on maximum number of enrolments per course (Sultan, 2015).  Thus, MOOCs have potential to provide accessible, high quality, engaging and scalable courses on outer space topics. The first MOOC date back to 2008 (Mallon, 2013) while public interest about this topic peaked in 2013 (Google Trends, 2018). The key issues facing MOOCs are high drop-out rates and difficulties with accreditation (Muhammad, 2015).  To accredit a course, it needs to meet certain quality standards. One of the main challenges of MOOCs platforms is its limited capacity to assess whether participants have completed the assessments and final exams themselves. To address this issue, several providers have chosen to work with physical test centres, where participants can conduct the final exam in person. Furthermore, some platforms choose to record their examinees by a webcam or use a software that compares typing styles with the patterns previously recorded in the classroom exercises  (Kaplan, 2016). At the same time, alternative credits and professional certificates are offered upon successful completion of MOOCs. Furthermore, MOOCs are also integrated into regular degrees and programs  (Canvas Network, 2016).  
In addition, SPOCs courses can be used to further build specialized knowledge in outer space field. These courses are usually more advanced and require prior knowledge of the field (prerequisites). Furthermore, less students are enrolled in these courses and application process is more competitive. In these courses students receive more guidance and feedback from their professors. However, SPOCs are also costlier (e.g. over 500 euros) and rarely provide auditing options before subscribing to the course.  Successful completion of MOOCs and SPOCs require discipline, and therefore graduates of these courses tend to be older (25-35 years) and often hold a first degree from a traditional university (80%). The importance of MOOCs and SPOOCs is likely to increase in the future (Kaplan, 2016).  

Related Content

Capacity Building and Training Material

ARSET - Mapping and Monitoring Lakes and Reservoirs with Satellite Observations


Natural lakes and man-made reservoirs are a part of Earth’s surface water. Freshwater lakes and reservoirs are used for drinking water, fishing, and recreational activities. Aside from the aesthetic and scenic value added by their presence, lakes support surrounding plant and aquatic ecosystems and wildlife. A variety of factors affect lakes and reservoirs, including climate variability and change, land use, and other watershed activities influencing surface runoff and groundwater.

ARSET - Introduction to Using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC)Hydrologic Model with NASA Earth Observations


Hydrologic modeling is useful for flood, drought, and water resources management. The Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) Model uses inputs to better understand hydrological processes in near real-time. Many of the inputs are available from NASA remote sensing and Earth system models, allowing the model to provide soil moisture, evapotranspiration, and runoff as outputs. Together with precipitation data, these outputs provide quantitative assessment of a regional water budget.

FAO CB4WA: Use of FAO WaPOR Portal


Welcome to the open access course Use of FAO WaPOR Portal from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). WaPOR is the portal to monitor Water Productivity through Open-access of Remotely sensed derived data and has been developed by FAO. The FAO’s WaPOR programme assists countries in monitoring water productivity, identifying water productivity gaps, proposing solutions to reduce these gaps, and contributing to a sustainable increase in agricultural production.

Digital Earth Africa: Agriculture and Food Security

Digital Earth Africa learning platform

This learning platform helps users understand the significance of Earth observations, explore Digital Earth Africa datasets through an interactive map, and get started on the basics of python coding for spatial analysis.

Digital Earth Africa makes Earth observation (EO) data readily available, delivering decision-ready products to the African continent. Data generated by Digital Earth Africa will provide valuable insights for better decision-making across many areas, including resource management, food security and urbanisation.

ARSET - Applications of GPM IMERG Reanalysis for Assessing Extreme Dry and Wet Periods


It is well recognized that long-term precipitation measurements are necessary for understanding and monitoring regional precipitation characteristics. This includes characteristics crucial for monitoring water resources and hazards, like floods and droughts. TRMM was the first NASA mission dedicated to observing precipitation. It operated from November 1997 to April 2015. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Mission launched in February 2014 as a follow-on to TRMM.

ARSET - Water Resource Management Using NASA Earth Science Data


This online course covers precipitation (rainfall and snow fraction), soil moisture, evapotranspiration, runoff and streamflow, groundwater, and lake level heights. Participants are introduced to a number of NASA data products.


Participants will be able to use NASA remote sensing observations and land-atmosphere models to: 

Data Sharing for Water Sector Organisations using Spatial Data Infrastructures


Integrated Water Resources Management requires exchange of data and information among sectors. Often data is stored in files on harddisks, CD-ROMs or DVDs. This makes it hard to find the data. In addition, metadata is often lacking, which makes it hard to evaluate the quality of the data and to reuse the data. A Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) can enable water sector organisations to improve the exchange of data within and among organisations.

Geospatial Applications for Disaster Risk Management

Learning objectives

During the challenging times of the COVID-19 outbreak, MOOCs are an effective way of reaching a large number of participants to share knowledge. The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education for Asia and the Pacific (Affiliated to the United Nations) launched a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on “Geospatial Applications for Disaster Risk Management” on 13th October, 2020 the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Climate Change and Water in Mountains: A Global Concern


What is climate change ? How are mountain regions affected by the evolution of water resources and their uses ? What kind of risks need to be considered ?

Mountains are recognized as particularly sensitive physical environments where intense and rapid changes have in the past, and may increasingly in the future, place pressure on their resource base.

ARSET - Using Earth Observations to Monitor Water Budgets for River Basin Management

Rivers are a major source of freshwater. They support aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, provide transportation, and generate hydropower. Managing river basin watersheds is critical for developing policies for sustainable water allocation and development. Over the online course of four sessions, this introductory webinar series will address using satellite data and Earth system modelling data sources to estimate surface water budgets

How to Cloud for Earth Scientists


With the impending arrival of new, high-data-volume missions, the need to effectively archive and process significantly larger data volumes will require new data management technologies and architectures that are more cost-effective, flexible, and scalable than traditional on-premises systems. To meet these needs, the Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) Program has adopted a strategic vision to develop and operate multiple components of the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) in a commercial cloud environment.

Water Quality Assessment


This module consists of four Courses with mainly theoretical background and one Course with a final assignment. Following the DPSIR structure (Driving forces, Pressures, State, Impact and Response), we will look first at some causes and consequences of water pollution and then learn how to measure and evaluate water pollution.

ARSET - Using Earth Observations to Monitor Water Budgets for River Basin Management II


Rivers are a major source of freshwater. They support aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, provide transportation, generate hydropower, and when treated, provide drinking and agricultural water. Estimating and monitoring water budgets within a river basin is required for sustainable management of water resources and flooding within watersheds. This webinar series will focus on the use of NASA Earth observations and Earth system-modelled data for estimating water budgets in river basins.

Introduction to Modflow and Model Use

This course provides basic knowledge about MODFLOW and Model Muse, which can be used to develop, run, and post-process models. MODFLOW in Model Muse combines many of the capabilities found in MODFLOW 6, MODFLOW-2005, MODFLOW-NWT, MODFLOW-USG, and MODFLOW-LGR, and provides a platform for adding packages.

Monitoring The Oceans From Space

The Copernicus/EUMETSAT Monitoring The Oceans From Space MOOC was first released in 2016 on the FutureLearn MOOC platform as a complete and highly innovative course which included videos, interactive exercises, tests, links, data apps and further reading. The course was run a number of times and introduced diverse new audiences to satellite Earth observation data.

ARSET - Remote Sensing of Drought


Prolonged drought can result in economic, environmental, and health-related impacts. In these training webinars, participants will learn how to monitor drought conditions and assess impacts on the ecosystem using precipitation, soil moisture, and vegetation data. The training will provide an overview of drought classification, as well as an introduction to web-based tools for drought monitoring and visualization.


By the end of the training, participants will be able to:

QGIS et Applications en Hydrologie

Le cours comprend 7 leçons. Chaque leçon présente un cas d'application, suivi d'une partie théorique SIG illustrée avec des vidéos. Ceux-ci seront suivis par un tutoriel pratique présentant les nombreuses fonctionnalités offertes par QGIS. Les leçons se terminent par des recettes de style des cartes qui fournissent une base solide dans les capacités cartographiques robustes de QGIS. Des astuces telles que les remplissages suivant la forme de polygone inversé, les paramètres d'étiquette avancés et les modes de fusion sont abordées.

Copernicus Marine Data Stream for Operational Services - Ocean Applications


This is a free virtual (online only) workshop held in English. The majority of the course is composed of self-paced learning with educational resources provided through an online learning platform called Moodle. However, instructors will also be running live training sessions in the 2nd and 3rd weeks, where participants have the opportunity to join two-hour live ‘espresso’ training sessions covering SNAP and python demos, data access, tailored workflows, and question and answer sessions for 1:1 interaction.

ARSET - Introduction to Remote Sensing for Coastal and Ocean Applications


In this introductory webinar, participants will be provided with an overview of remote sensing for coastal and ocean applications. This will include a background in aquatic remote sensing, data access and tools for processing and analysing imagery, and examples and live demonstrations of applied science tools that have been developed for NASA and partner organizations. This course will review data products from MODIS, VIIRS, HICO, and other sensors commonly used for ocean applications.

ARSET - Applications of Remote Sensing to Soil Moisture and Evapotranspiration


NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Satellite Mission is providing new soil moisture data, and modelling frameworks are providing new evapotranspiration data. This webinar series is intended to help participants learn about NASA soil moisture and evapotranspiration products and how to access and apply them for water resource management. Throughout the sessions, participants will learn how to monitor and manage water resources with techniques learned in training. The series begins with an introduction to satellite missions and useful data sets.

Water Productivity and Water Accounting using WaPOR

Water Productivity and Water Accounting using WaPOR (the portal to monitor Water Productivity through Open-access of Remotely sensed derived data) is an open online course targeting practitioners and academicians who are working in water resources management and related fields and have interest in applying open access remote sensing data and other open data to assess the water resources situation and water productivity and the extent to which water productivity increases have an effect on different water users in a river basin context.

Water: addressing the global crisis


The SDG Academy and the Stockholm International Water Institute have come together to offer this MOOC on some of the most important water issues. They focus on the key role water plays in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, not least SDG 6, about sustainable water and sanitation for all. The course intends to explain the global water crisis through linkages between water, environment, and societal development, focusing on how to tackle issues such as growing water uncertainty and deteriorating water quality.

Introduction to Water and Climate (edX)

Water is a crucial element in climate and for society. Find out about the latest engineering interventions for water management in rivers, coasts and the urban environment. Water is essential for life on Earth and of crucial importance for society. Water also plays a major role in affecting climate. Its natural cycle, from ocean to atmosphere by evaporation, then by precipitation back to land returning via rivers and aquifers to the oceans, has a decisive impact on regional and global climate patterns.

ARSET - Processing Satellite Imagery for Monitoring Water Quality


Polluted water influences all aspects of life, including people, animals, and the environment. NASA satellite observations provide near real-time information about water quality. This freely available data can help decision-makers in their work. Satellite data can have applications for managing drinking water, public health, and fisheries.

ARSET - Remote Sensing of Coastal Ecosystems


Coastal and marine ecosystems serve key roles for carbon storage, nutrients and materials cycling, as well as reservoirs of biodiversity. They also provide ecosystems services such as sustenance for millions of people, coastal protection against wave action, and recreational activities. Remote sensing of coastal and marine ecosystems is particularly challenging. Up to 90% of the signal received by the sensors in orbit comes from the atmosphere.

ARSET - Introduction to Remote Sensing of Harmful Algal Blooms


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) can have a negative impact on the ecosystem and human health. Satellite remote sensing is able to collect data frequently and over a large area to identify impaired water quality from HABs. This data can inform decision-makers on where best to put their resources for taking water samples, determine what toxins are in the water, whether they need to change or move drinking water intakes, and whether a fishery needs to be closed. Remote sensing data enables individuals and organizations to have more flexible plans for water sampling.

Digital Earth Africa: Water Resources

Digital Earth Africa learning platform

This learning platform helps users understand the significance of Earth observations, explore Digital Earth Africa datasets through an interactive map, and get started on the basics of python coding for spatial analysis.

Digital Earth Africa makes Earth observation (EO) data readily available, delivering decision-ready products to the African continent. Data generated by Digital Earth Africa will provide valuable insights for better decision-making across many areas, including resource management, food security and urbanisation.

GIS OpenCourseWare for Hydrological Applications


For many studies models are used or developed. During modelling courses not much attention is paid to the preprocessing of input data and parameters needed for the models. A lot of open source software is available for this purpose. Besides desktop tools with graphical user interfaces, scripting is very useful for processing large datasets and timeseries. With the skills learned in this course you will be able to more efficiently process your data and setup and improve your models.

ARSET - Integrating Remote Sensing into a Water Quality Monitoring Program


These training webinars will focus on integrating NASA Earth observations into water quality monitoring decision making processes. This will include a brief overview of data products used for water quality monitoring, an overview of aquatic remote sensing-specific criteria, methods and best practices, obtaining NASA Earth observation data for water quality monitoring, and practical skill building in image processing for water quality monitoring of coastal and larger inland water bodies. 

Programming for Geospatial Hydrological Applications


In this self-paced online course, the participants will be introduced to the Programming for Geospatial Hydrological Applications. Participants will learn an essential skill for researchers dealing with (spatial) data. With scripting participants will be able to better control analysis using command line tools. They can also automate their procedures by writing batch scripts. Furthermore, participants can process their data and make models using Python and its useful libraries

Computational Hydraulics

Computational hydraulics is an applied science aiming at the simulation by computers of various physical processes involved in seas, estuaries, rivers, channels, lakes, etc. It is one of the many fields of science in which the application of computers gives rise to a new way of working, which is intermediate between purely theoretical and experimental. This discipline is not an independent development, but rather a synthesis of various disciplines like applied mathematics, fluid mechanics, numerical analysis and computational science.