40 Tips for running an Open Online Course or MOOC from those who have experienced them

To coincide with the announcement of a new Learning Design MOOC (now confirmed as starting in January 2013) some of those registering have been invited to tell us about their previous experiences of participating, or helping organise, open online courses. Information about MOOCs can be difficult to come by, so the thirty-five responses we have received so far (which cover 50 separate experiences of 25 different MOOCs) represents a really interesting dataset.

In the survey we asked people about what they had liked and disliked about the MOOCs they had been involved with, what the MOOC did well and not so well, how the issues they had encountered could be resolved and what advice they would give to others planning a MOOC. I’ve taken these responses and attempted to express these as a series of tips – each tip based directly on one or more pieces of advice, suggestions or experiences reported by the survey respondents.

If you would like to add your experiences to those already contributed, please visit the survey. Also, as this survey represents the first stage in a broader schedule of monitoring and evaluation for the MOOC, watch out for further reporting over the next six months.

So here are 40 Tips for running a MOOC (in no particular order)…

1. Be clear about what type of MOOC you are planning  – there is no one way of doing a MOOC for, just like any course, it may draw on constructivism, instructivism,  connectivism etc. (or any combination). Be clear about the pedagogy even if just within your design team.

2. Ensure a balance between the suggested activities (those you have designed) and time allowed for participants to develop/build from them

3. Ensure the course rewards participation – some will be motivated by the promise of awards such as badges or certificates however for others the benefit of an enriching experience, helping others, social interaction over a share interest, or better understanding themselves may be as, if not more, important.

4. Ensure the course mechanics/design focuses on achieving a coalescing or binding together of knowledge  – so as to avoid a spiralling fragmentation of posts, content and participation and generating what one respondent termed ‘too much noise’

5. Consider the expectations and skills of those who will be involved what are the prerequisite skills required? At what point might the degree of difference between participants become an issue?

 6. Provide ‘plenty of structure’ in terms of activities, group working and website organisation/navigation yet also ensure such structure is not a constraint for those who want to go further or to reorganise knowledge in different ways. Consider the negative impact on motivation some feel during scripted courses and, conversely, others feel during very ‘open’ courses

7. Consider future participants as well as current participants will the post, tweets, links etc make sense to someone new visiting the site in 6 months time? Will the course really be ‘open’ across time as well as open geographically at the time it takes place?

8. Expect a high-drop out rate low barriers to entry may also mean low barriers to withdrawal or lower tolerance thresholds). Take the opportunity to reflect on what a drop-out rate of 50% or 90% of registrations would mean for your course, for the participants registering on the course and your own educational mission/purpose in organising it.

9. Create a sense of closure at the end of the coursefor example, as one respondent suggests ‘an assessment, a designed activity or summary podcast’.

10. Build in the potential to scale-up (in terms of numbers), reach further (in terms of accessibility and portability) and be sustained (repeated in future)

11. Keep the pace and depth of topics higher than traditional face to face courses – and in making this change, ensure you recommend or estimate how long tasks should take

12. Determine and communicate a vision for how different forms of knowledge will be handled and privileged within the courseare some forms of knowledge more authoritative? Do anecdotal opinions carry equal weight to empirical published research?

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