Engaging MOOCs Must Be Modular, Audience-Sensitive and Shorter


MOOCS need to be more flexible, audience-sensitive, not focused on institutional learning, modular and shorter.

Author and EdTech entrepreneur Donald Clark recently blogged about “7 ways to design sticky MOOCs”.

Here is a summary of his revealing ideas:

  • “It is unfortunate that many MOOC designers treat learners as they were physically (and psychologically) at a university” (…) “MOOC designers have to get out of their institutional thinking and realize that their audience often has a different set of intentions and needs. The new MOOCs need to be sensitive to learner needs.”
  • “Having all the material available from day one allows learners to start later than others, proceed at their own rate and, importantly, catch up when they choose.”
  • “A more modular approach, where modules are self-contained and can be taken in any order, is one tactic. Adaptive MOOCs, using AI software that guides learners through content on the basis of their needs, is another.” (…) Data show that some learners complete the whole course in one day, others do a couple of modules per day, many do the modules in a different order, and some go through in a linear and measured fashion. Some even go backwards.
  • “MOOC learners don’t need the ten week semester structure. Some want much shorter and faster experiences, others want medium length, and some want longer courses. Higher education is based on an agricultural calendar, with set semesters that fit harvest and holiday patterns. The rest of the world does not work to this pre-industrial timetable.” (…)
    “We have to understand that learning for MOOC audiences is taken erratically and is not always in line with the campus model. We need to design for this.”
  • “There is a considerable thirst for doing things at your own pace and convenience, rather than at the pace mandated by synchronous, supported courses.”
  • “Take a dual approach that appeals to an entire range of learners with different needs and motivations.

You can see that the learners who experienced the structured approach —which contained a live Monday announcement by the lead academic, a Friday wrap-up with a live webinar, and a help forum and email query service — was a sizeable group in any one week. Yet the other learners, those who learned without support, were also substantial in every week.”

  • “One of the great MOOC myths is that social participation is a necessary condition for learning and/or success.” (…) However, “many have little interest in social chat and being part of a consistent group of cohort”. “Social component is desirable but not essential“. “To rely on this as the essential pedagogic technique, is, in my opinion, a mistake, and is to impose an ideology on learners that they do not want.”
  • “MOOC learners have not chosen to come to your university: they’ve chosen to study a topic.” “I’m less interested in what your department is doing and far more interested in the important developments and findings at an international level in your field.”
  • “Partial rewards for partial completion with badges prove valuable. It moves us away from the idea that certificates of completion are the way we should judge MOOC participation.”
  • “Too many MOOCs are over-structured, too linear, and too like traditional university courses. They need to loosen up and deliver what these newer, more diverse audiences want.”