How to Run and Offer a Massive Open Online Course

How to Offer a Massive Open Online Course

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have gained much popularity and many universities have launched MOOCs on different topics.

In fact the New York Times declared 2012 as theYear of the MOOC. High enrollments in these courses have caught the attention of educational providers as an alternative and supplement to traditional university courses. MIT, Harvardand Stanford have successfully set the example and pace forothers to follow. All sorts of organisations and institutions are trying their hands on offering MOOCs. Future Learn, edX, Coursera, Open2Study, Udacity etc are providing courses of diverse nature and disciplines (see Worth While Web section in this issue of EduComm Asia).

Before we learn how to run a MOOC, let’s first understand few basic things about MOOCs.


The term Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was coined by Dave Cormier and Bryan Alexander in 2008 in relation to the course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” (also known as CCK08) offered by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Dave in his blog says, “To the best of my knowledge, the term “MOOC” comes out of a Skype chat conversation I had with George Siemens...”. MOOCs are planned as web based courses which the students can take from anywhere, enabling mass enrollment. Initially groups of experts, instructors and educators contributed a variety of content to a central repository where the course material and the course itself are open and free. However, a fee is also changed for those who need a university credit or certification.

Types of MOOCs

Traditionally MOOCs were grouped into two groups: cMOOCs and xMOOCs. cMOOCs are based on the Connectivism (as propounded by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier) where community building is core to the process. cMOOCs were the first MOOCs created as the next evolution in networked learning. Here the learners set their own goals and kind of engagement. xMOOCs are kind of courses involving instructions or content offered via “concise, targeted video content” with some sort of inbuilt automated testing for tracking student’s understanding while they progress in the course. Mostly students learn in a linear fashion in xMOOCs.

Pedagogical implications

• MOOCs augment peer-to-peer learning as the students are encouraged to create and share their own content.

• Being self-paced, students’ progress as per their convenience towards completion (one of the reasons for high dropouts also). Students are trying new courses which were not available to them locally.

• MOOCs promote life-long learning as is evident from the age demography of students being opting for courses from younger to seniors.

• There may be a lack of personal interactions.

Offering a MOOC!

MOOCs are being designed and offered by individuals and institutions. So you may also be planning to organise a MOOC on some theme where large number of learners can enroll. Having been part of the “OER MOOC” (see http:// launched under the banner of LMP Education Trust (and supported by COL), I proffer here some helpful suggestions for you to start MOOC and become part of the new educational revolution. There are some issues to be considered first before organising a MOOC.

1. Selecting a topic: The topic should be of such nature which is need based and can attract right kind of learners in large numbers. Since MOOCs are designed for large clients, MOOCs on popular topics stand a great chance of success. We selected ‘The OER MOOC’ topic because Open Educational Resources (OER) are being adopted by many in government, non-government, private, business and educational institution. Our MOOC was designed to help impart the knowledge and develop the skills needed to be successful in learning from OERs or teaching the chosen subject to post-secondary students and life-long learners using OERs.

2. Duration: We need to decide on the length of the MOOC. It can be as short as for a week or may run into few months. The duration of the MOOC will depend on the theme of the MOOC and the nature and quantity of the content and kind of assessment activities. The OER MOOC was a 4 weeks online programme designed to enhance knowledge about OERs and to equip for effective use of OERs for course offering. The programme also helped learners to create their own OERs and contribute to the pool of OERs. The nominal duration for completing this course was 4 weeks. However, because of the nature of this programme which allows flexibility and personalisation, participants were allowed to take another 2 weeks if they wished to complete the course.

3. Course Content: Next step is to assemble a team of content creators who will contribute to the course content. Some of the MOOCs are making use of OERs. The content can be in the form of reading materials or audio or video lessons. Some form of materials can be:

• Introductory Text based materials

• Introductory Video

• Lecture Presentations

• Blog posts for learning materials

• Tweets from time to time

• A resource base of links to relevant resources

These can be uploaded on the course site to help the learners read asynchronously. We also need to plan about assessment activities so that understanding of the learners can be assessed while they progress during the course. There are various ways to do so. Many of the MOOCs prefer collaborative and reflective learning. The learners are expected to read the materials, listen to audio or watch the videos and then make comment on the content (based on the assignment) like in their blogs or on social media through micro-blogging (say Twitter or identica). The students are asked to use some hashtag (#) while making comments so that the aggregators compile all messages or comments at one place for learning or analysis.

4. Choice of Platform: There can be different ways to launch a MOOC. It can be synchronous and asynchronous. We adopted synchronous way to run the OER MOOC based on WizIQ online teaching platform. Here we uploaded all materials (OERs) and an international team of speakers took sessions (one hour each) to address a specific issue. Participants attended these live sessions which were also recorded for later viewing for anyone those who could not attend live session. The recorded video session provide advantage of asynchronous learning opportunities to the students who can access the materials any time. It has been noted that attendance in synchronous online live sessions were not high due to different time zones or timings not suitable for all. There are many platforms to offer MOOC. Even the WikiEducator platform can be used to offer MOOC, and if you so desire, a Moodle course can also become MOOC (as was the case with the first ever MOOC). Those institutions having some LMS implemented on their servers can also mount a MOOC and manage content. You may also use a Blog or a wiki page to launch your MOOC. The platform you use must be able to support different file formats as you may be providing content in the form of pdf, doc files, audio, video lessons, embedded YouTube video, presentations, interactive games etc.

5. Enrollment: Adequate publicity is a must for attracting students to your course. Use various social media to tell the world about your course. Sending out messages to different listservs or online groups is a good idea. Ask your colleagues to spread the word about the course. The system you have used to mount your course must be able to handle large enrollments.

6. Support: Since MOOCs are online courses with massive enrollments, the students belong to all time zones and they may need support anytime 24x7. Hence we need to make sure of responding to the queries of the participants at the earliest. A welcome message by the course coordinator/s to the participants in the beginning of the course, regular contact during the course and post-course follow up are definitely ways to keep the participants feel involved in the course. We may also create discussion forum where the participants can have peer interactions. For sophisticated platforms, Helpdesk with a ticketing system is welcome and the support service may be reachable through toll free number or SMS or a designated email id.

7. Certification: Certification on the completion of course can be provided. This can be with or without a charge to the participant. Online badges (like Mozilla) are actively created to assess the performance of the participants and as soon as they complete an assignment or activity. MOOCs have emerged as a promising technological and pedagogical model to teach millions of learners. They provide great opportunity to anyone who has something to teach to others. We are witnessing a teaching and learning revolution, and I urge all the readers of EduComm Asia to join the bandwagon. Here is an opportunity, and challenge to show to the world, what you can offer. The technology is no more a deterrent. Are you ready to adopt it?

Note: Re-printed with permission from CEMCA, New Delhi

About the Author
Author: Dr. Ramesh Sharma
Dr Ramesh Sharma is an expert in open and distance and technology mediated learning and has served COL as Director of the Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia, Indira Gandhi National Open University and University of Guyana, Guyana, South America. He had been a member of Advisory Group on Human Resources Development for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). While at University of Guyana he also collaborated with UNDP for its Enhanced Public Trust, Security and Inclusion (EPTSI) project, Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) and United Nations Volunteer (UNV) to develop suitable educational opportunities for communities and youth.

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