Sunday, February 03, 2013

My First MOOC Experience: What I Learned

My first MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) experience ended abruptly this morning with an email from the instructor. The course, opened on Monday, was plagued with numerous technical and design issues -- so many that the course was suspended until these issues could be fixed.

I had decided to enroll in an MOOC through Coursera, a site which hosts online course offerings from 33 different universities. The course I selected was Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application. I opted for this title because I already have a background in this topic and I wanted to learn about MOOCs in a setting where I did not have a great deal of academic pressure on a topic. Unfortunately, the course was a mess from the start, and this blog post accurately describes the experience:

While this experience was far from optimal, it has not soured me on the potential of MOOCs. However, there are several things I learned from the experience:
  • Design matters. Taking the time to study and design engaging learning experiences makes a difference in student learning and course satisfaction.
  • Make sure your infrastructure can handle the load. Sounds obvious, but that clearly did not happen in this case.
  • If you are going to lead a MOOC, you better have a thick skin. Out of 40,000 participants there are bound to be some that are absolutely brutal in their critique of your work.
  • While the course design was clearly not strong, there were also many students who had no intention of trying to figure things out on their own. A significant sub-set of those enrolled was not going to use the tools and mechanisms available to make the course work for them. They simply quit. That made me think about what would happen if MOOCs became more accepted as a credit tool. Would students simply drift to the "easiest" MOOC course -- the one that would spoon-feed them the most? If so, how would that practice support innovative education and advancement. It seems to me that some sort of tracking may be needed, especially to track the number of times a student enrolls in a course and then actually completes the course. That would create a larger investment in the process instead of simply giving up at the first sign of difficulty.
  • I was anxious to converse with a diverse body of students, including several from other countries (Jamaica, Finland, Saudi Arabia) who were assigned to my discussion group. Alas, our discussions never got off the ground, but that has the potential to be a rich experience.
I am anxious to find a good course fit to explore a full MOOC in the near future. While the model has potential to bring educational opportunities to the masses, both nationally and internationally, MOOCs are still in their infancy. I hope to have more to report from personal experience about MOOCs in the very near future.


  1. Wow. Same thing happened to me with my first coursera MOOC, starting on the same date. I use "same" here loosely though, because the real reason for my termination was somewhere along the lines of bullet-point number 4. I plan on doing this one in March though:

  2. Interestingly, I just received the following email:

    Dear FOE students,

    We were inspired to see the number of people who expressed an interest in seeing the class resume. There were some choices made in the initial design of the class that didn't work out as well as we'd hoped. We are working to address these issues, and are reopening the discussion forums so that we can get feedback on how the class can be improved when it relaunches.

    Thank you for your patience as we work to provide you with a great learning experience in the next version.

    The FOE Course Staff

    I am going to take a look at the forums to see what is being shared and how, ultimately, these ideas will be incorporated into a final course design.