eLearning 2

Learning to ‘run a MOOC’

By: Bob Little, Bob Little PR
Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 07:05 GMT Jump to Comments

There are more learner interactivity options available than multiple–choice questions and ‘drag and drop’ responses, says Bob Little.

Everyone in the learning world, it seems, is talking about the phenomenon that is the massive open online course (MOOC).

These are being offered by a growing number of organisations – notably, but not exclusively, higher education institutions. To qualify as a MOOC – a term first coined in 2008 to describe a course offered by the University of Manitoba - a course must have a very large number of students and offer open access.

Their supporters claim that MOOCs are ideal for the socially-networked world. Indeed, they’re usually ‘discovered’ via online networks. For example, there’s a website offering ‘200 MOOCs from the Great Universities’ (depending, of course, on your definition of a ‘great university’). Those wanting free access to higher education courses from the UK could look at Futurelearn, a company launched last December by the Open University and comprising a consortium of UK universities.

MOOCs aim to be open, distributed, participatory and contribute to life-long networked learning. They’re ways to connect, collaborate and engage in the learning process. They bring together like-minded people to discuss, explore and learn in at least a semi-structured way. All work done is accessible to, and shared by, others. So, while students keep their work, everyone else can benefit from it too. In addition, MOOC participants have the networking contacts they’ve built up by engaging in study with each other.

MOOCs can help students explore interests, prepare for entrance exams and gain exposure to college level coursework. They can also help in faculty development, educating the public and providing learning opportunities for those lacking access to more conventional college courses.

The work resulting from the course exists in pockets around the web, rather than in one place – even in the cloud. Moreover, there’s no prescribed ‘right’ way to follow the course – so new ideas can develop and different points of view can co-exist. This encourages learners to be independent – of thought and of study – as they build their own networks. Learners choose what they’ll do; how they participate - and only they can decide if, ultimately, they’ve been successful.

While this sounds like a lot of fun to some people, others see it as the first step to educational anarchy and even a dangerous loosening on the reins of educational publishers’ intellectual property ownership.

In their current form, MOOCs can be challenging for the learner because:

•The process can appear chaotic as each learner creates her/his own content.
•Taking part in a MOOC demands a degree of digital literacy.
•It demands a serious commitment in terms of time and effort.
•The learning process is organic and so will take its own path, in terms of trajectory and velocity.
•It requires strict self-regulation – especially in terms of defining learning goals and, thus, ultimate success.

MOOCs are a result of today’s readily accessible vast amount of information - but accessing information is no guarantee of it being assimilated. There’s a danger of information overload – and this puts pressure on learning materials’ developers to make these materials as engaging, motivating, memorable and, thus, effective as possible. Indeed, there are concerns that MOOCs are repeating the same instructional design mistakes that were being made in the early days of e-learning, some 20 years ago.

Poonam Jaypuriya, Senior General Manager - Program Management (Innovation and Products), at Harbinger Knowledge Products, based in Pune, India, explained: “Many MOOCs include video – often as an introduction to the course - which might set out the course’s learning objectives or outline the course contents. This video merely gives information to the learner. There’s no element of interactivity.

“To engage learners and keep them interested in the course - and motivated to continue and complete it, there’s a need to develop MOOCs that are highly interactive (iMOOCs).”

“No wonder that MOOCs’ learner drop-out rates are extremely high,” she commented. “According to our information, typically, we’re seeing only seven or eight per cent of learners completing courses.”

Institutions, including Stanford University in the USA, boast that individual MOOCs attract over 100,000 people. However, Stanford has also stated that some 85 per cent of these people fail to ‘complete’ the course. One mathematics course, taught as a MOOC in 2012, attracted some 65,000 students. By the end of the third week, it had some 20,000 students and, at the end of the course, there were only 10,000 students. Some 1,200 of these took the optional final examination to earn a certificate.

“One reason for this low completion rate could be that the initial course material is boring because there’s no opportunity for the learners to interact with it. This reliance on passive content delivery is no different to the very early e-learning materials,” said Poonam.

Those developing e-learning materials at the end of the last century learned the hard way that passive content delivery – merely ‘putting lecture notes and other text online’ – is neither an effective nor an engaging way of learning.

“Effective learning materials involve the learners,” Poonam said. “This can be done in various ways – including, increasingly, via social media – but there are now ways to engage the learner via video. This medium, in particular, can help in the development of interactive, or ‘iMOOCs’.”

Those wanting to build iMOOCS – or at least include greater learner interactivity into their courses – could gather inspiration for their instructional design strategy from interactivity building tools, such as Harbinger Group’s well-known, Raptivity. There’s certainly more to ‘interactivity’ in modern online learning – and more learner interactivity options available - than multiple–choice questions and ‘drag and drop’ responses.

How virtual learning can help plug public sector skills gaps? Read more HERE

For over 20 years, Bob Little has specialised in writing about, and commentating on, corporate learning – especially e-learning – and technology-related subjects. His work has been published in the UK, Continental Europe, the USA and Australia. You can contact Bob via bob.little@boblittlepr.com His e-book, ‘Perspectives on Learning Technologies’ (e-book; ASIN: B00A9K1VVS) is available from The Endless Bookcase and from Amazon. It contains over 200 pages of observations on issues in learning technologies, principally for learning & development professionals.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.



One focus of the ongoing UK health reforms is improving access to the best healthcare for more people.

Nationally, the NHS must embrace more technology, specifically; self-service technology, and do as much as it…

Over the next 12 months, the new Conservative government will need to make two major decisions which will play…

The Citizens Advice Bureau recently published a report entitled 'Personal data empowerment: time for a fairer…

Tapping into the potential of mobile technology can release healthcare staff from offices and give them the tools…

The whole purpose of clinical trials is to gauge the efficacy and safety of particular treatments. But what about…

We all know how frustrating it is to find that elusive parking space. But it’s not until we quantify our…

Devolution may help rebalance the UK’s growth, but its strategy and execution need to be carefully thought…

In a recent blog post, Dan Slee, director of the communications and PR website Comms2Point0, suggested that open…

Back in 2013, I wrote a piece for The Information Daily about how that year would be the year of digital by default,…

When GP Chair of NHS Cannock Chase CCG, Dr Jonny McMahon, agreed to take part in Reality Bites - The National…

Bath & NE Somerset council has developed an approach to opening up its data that is delivering rapid returns for…