MOOC success

Making a MOOC ‘successful’

Designing a ‘successful’ MOOC is one thing. Making a MOOC ‘successful’ is something completely different.

Much has been written by far better and more eloquent people than me (here and here and here and here and here) on what makes a successful MOOC – all about interactions, journeys, optimum length, appropriate materials, platform, etc.. But what about making a MOOC successful? To me, there is a difference.

This isn’t about making / building / designing a MOOC, it’s about making / encouraging / promoting / informing people about the MOOC.

The argument about MOOC success, learner retention, completion numbers, registrations, etc., is one that will rage on and on, everyone has an opinion, everyone looking at something different, all very valid, and all very important questions. There isn’t a definitive answer – each MOOC is different, for a different audience, for a different demographic (maybe), and designed in a way that different learner ‘profiles’ can get something different out at the end. If indeed they reach the end, which of course they don’t have.

No, making a successful MOOC requires more than a lead academic(s) subject knowledge, learning technology, instructional/education design, assessments, an appropriate learning goal/journey, working platform, etc. You need all the other stuff as well.

The other stuff you need? Well, try: 

Support
Support for the academic to develop the course in the first place. This could be time allocated to their schedule to relieve them from teaching, research, meetings, etc. It could be time and resources to create the materials and resources needed for the MOOC. We could be talking extra training in how to design for online audiences (not everyone has designed for an online audience before), or media training, or training in how to facilitate or moderate the course once it’s running. This support is required from more areas than just the team helping to put the course together in the first place.

Support is also required for all other aspects of the course progression. If there are facilitators or moderators (use whichever term you prefer – I don’t like ‘moderators’) do they require training in netiquette or how to handle the volume of comments as well as the quality (or lack of) in the comments?

If you are running the course more than once and, let’s face it you should if you’ve put all this effort into planning and designing it, then who will continue to be involved? If the facilitators change, the training starts from scratch.

Coverage
This is a biggie, and depends solely on each course and the intended audience. If you’re aiming at business professionals for specific business process, and the outcome is they get a certificate that can be used for CPD or other such professional recognition, then you need to contact the appropriate professional bodies (trade, commercial, publishing, etc.) and see firstly about accreditation or, at least, whether they will endorse the course or send a notice to their members/readers informing them it’s running.

If your course is a teaching course in something specific, aimed at giving the online student a taste or perspective of online learning from your Institution, perhaps at a degree level education, then make sure you’ve something to give them or sell to them afterwards? Can the certificate be used on an application form as evidence of XYZ? Is completion (by whatever metric ‘completion’ is measured in the course or on the platform) enough to warrant further study with you, and can it be used as an incentive?

Has a course, with a specialist audience (perhaps not ‘massive’ in the sense of tens of thousands of active users, but with a well defined but small community that covers a very specialist industry, theory, concept, etc.) got what it takes to attract the right people without fuller involvement of their trade body or publication?

Marketing
Nothing can happen without someone telling someone else about the course. Yes, most of us have Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. I’ll put my hand up and admit I’ve been very active pushing my/Warwick’s latest MOOC (Literature and Mental Health) as much as I dare on my various channels. But, here’s the rub – yes, I have +8,500 followers on Twitter, so the reach of my tweets are quite high, but these followers are looking for tweets about learning design, learning technology, reflections on conferences, that kind of stuff. I am not the right person, or rather my social accounts are not the right fit, to be marketing this course.

I’ll use examples here from the Literature MOOC, to help explain what I mean.

Without the full cooperation of the individual department or Institution marketing, your course will only get limited coverage. Yes, I can tweet about my courses. So can the lead educator(s). So can anyone else interested in the course. What you need, to make a course successful is maximise the audience that is out there. You need to get the big players in the field of influence the course covers involved, get them tweeting about it, get them to blog about it, write to their subscriber list about it – and not just a mention, you need a full on (positive) review and endorsement. That will mean something to their readers, not just another advert that we all ignore.

The marketing team(s) need to target more than just the list of local businesses, or the alumni network, or a generic email list. While these may have their place in this and other uses, MOOCs need more. If you have the contacts, then get national press involved too!

A MOOC about psychology? What would really help get the word out would be positive interaction and authentic ‘reviews’ from the likes of Psychology Today (Facebook: 6.6m followers) or the Psychology Magazine (Twitter: @psychmag 48k followers).

A MOOC about automotive engineering? Having international organisations like Automotive News (Twitter: @Automotive_News 128k followers) interested, or get it added to the Engineering Management Science Manufacturing LinkedIn group (288k members) would help.

For me (putting my old hat on I used to wear as a freelance/self-employed web designer) the marketing is NOT about sending a press release and waiting for the news to hit. It’s not about the phone call where you ask something. It’s about building those relationships (if you don’t already have them) with an organisation who can benefit, either themselves or their members, from the course. Let them see the course, talk to them about the purpose and requirements, offer some advice or editorial, accept advice or criticism in return (you never know, it may make the course better, or at least more applicable to their members).

When I work on an online course or MOOC I want as many (appropriate) people to be able to get on it. Big Data isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to know about Shakespeare. Reading isn’t to everyone’s taste. But in order to make the courses successful we need to reach out to individuals to whom these courses could be important, or certainly interesting. If we can’t get to them directly, through whatever channels we have, we need to reach out to the places they congregate; the trade publications, the fan sites, the online communities, the conferences, etc.

After all, if you put the effort in to designing the best online course and best online experience for your thousands of students/learners, you want them to be able to find it in the first place. Yes?

Image source: Marjon Kruik (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)