Wednesday, May 7, 2014

MOOCs Designers - Is Your Course Engaging Enough?

As a MOOCs designer, connecting and engaging with your participants is vital to competition and success. As a graduate student in Northwestern University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program and 3rd year student on various MOOCs platforms, I encountered two articles in my research about MOOCs engagement that you can’t miss.

Not all MOOCs are created equal. In the article An Unique Approach to a xMOOC — Learner-Centric Course Design, Debbie Morrison introduced a course called Applied Sustainability delivered by Fanshawe college in Ontario, Canada. This course is unique in that it focuses on students and their learning experiences, as opposed to the traditional instructor-centered design that emphasizes faculty-delivered content. Rather than one expert instructor leading the course, there is an interviewer who travels to visit numerous subject matter experts in the field. The interviewer acts as the ‘host’ of the course, going on an exploratory journey along with the students to learn about applied sustainability. Students have access to a variety of open resources, primarily from the experts in the field, field trips with interviewer and the collection of curated resources on the website. Knowing the different levels of commitment of students from diverse backgrounds, the Fanshawe MOOC provided options to customize their learning by offering four options for course participation—Green, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Image from Presentation Slide featuring student project, posted during Webinar with 
Contact North,with Wendy Wilson describing the MOOC’s development strategy

Since we’re talking about learner-centric courses, student feedback is a valuable reference for MOOCs design. In Melissa Venable’s article, How Can Student Feedback Improve Online Classes, she presented her students’ answers on how they would advise the MOOCs designers in terms of interaction and engagement. The typical online course includes static content presentation and threaded discussion boards – both have value, but neither offers a lot of inspiration. Students expect something different, like in-person alternatives through Skype or Google Hangouts, as well as timely and individual feedback. A good example that I know of is Machine Learning offered by Stanford University on Coursera. Its tutoring program connects students and tutors via live video-chat over Google Helpouts. Students would also love to have social networking opportunities. They welcome the possibility to post profile information and rate, “Like,” or vote up responses in a discussion or list of recommended resources. Students have suggested integrating social media-type functions within courses, so that they can get to know each other better.

In reading the articles mentioned above, I tried to crack the secret code to the success of MOOCs engagement, and came to the following conclusion. These are the three things that every MOOCs designer should seriously consider and act on immediately:

  • Turn passive lecturing into active learning – The instructor of the course is more than the traditional professor that gives lectures. To facilitate students' learning process and encourage participation, he/she explores and learns with students.
  • Personalize the experience – In order for every student to get the most out of the course and generate useful feedback for improvement, MOOCs should provide different options in terms of learning objectives and tutoring requests.
  • Create a platform for socializing and networking – A passion-driven community is the best loyalty program. The shared passion and the links with various talents keep students coming back for more.

Everyone is over-loaded with information today, including MOOCs students. There are millions of courses out there, and why would students with limited time choose your MOOCs if you don’t truly care about their needs? Implementing these three action items helps you create learning experiences for students that are relevant and meaningful.

Josie Zhang is currently pursuing her master’s degree at Northwestern University Integrated Marketing Communications program. She specializes in data analytics and digital marketing. She’s passionate about technology, design, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning. Follow her to Questions and Comments? Contact me on Twitter at @hi_josieee, or on LinkedIn:

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