I would suggest that it is personal interest and curiosity that drives the whole thing. The “academic” or “professional” motivation is secondary. Which is why the MOOC “presentation” and technology supports are important. There has to be something in it for the participant as a learner because they are not required to do anything. No “what do I have to do to get an A?” which seems to be a problem for some participants.
One of the things that MOOCs provide for me is a “path” – a general outline of the topic, resources and a network. I don’t know what I don’t know so here I get to see where others are in their thinking and sharing. Then I get to check out various avenues at different “depths” – too academic, too location specific, interesting idea but needs work, great and I can use it immediately.
I think all learning can / should be like this. Except in the case of some kinds of research (and maybe even there), there are “paths” to learning and understanding. A friend who is a 7th grade science teacher was trying to teach heat transfer as required by the state curriculum when the kids didn’t know anything about molecular structure – a step on the path is skipped which makes it much more difficult to understand the current concepts.
If I ruled the world there would be repositories of “paths” for everything. Paths are just connections, short chains, networks of resources and guides. If you are a 7th grader and don’t get heat transfer, here are 3-4 grade appropriate resources that will help you, including a high level introduction to molecular structure needed to progress to heat transfer.
Paths work forward and sideways too. Now that the 7th grader gets heat transfer as required to be covered by the state curriculum and has some time before we move on, the path provides suggestions for more depth, related topics, application of the concepts, demonstrations,…
MOOCs provide this! albeit about a specific subject, usually higher education about education or something quite specialized, where it isn’t practical to have physical courses or workshops or conferences.