MOOC Design : from benchmark to project qualification Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have spread quickly since 2012. They are interactive online courses, gathering hundreds thousands of registrants for the biggest ones. In the general acception of the term, they are free and open to anyone for a limited period of time, ranging from a few weeks to a few months [1]. Prestigious universities from all over the world have joined the movement since 2012, and hundreds of courses have been launched in various areas, ranging from physics to american poetry. In the coming articles, we try to identify the different steps of the design of a MOOC.

 Although they have triggered a worldwide debate over the place of internet in education, MOOCs are far from being the first attempt to open up education through free online ressources. Throughout the 2000s, various actors got involved in the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement [2], from public institutions to non-profit organiszations such as Khan Academy [3]. OER are defined in Wikipedia as “freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching, learning, educational, assessment and research purposes”.  Open coursewares (OCW), such as the MIT OCW [4] launched in 2001, are course materials designed for in-person teaching and made accessible online and therefore represent a specific category of OER. MOOCs should be distinguished from OER and OCW since they are interactive formations – not only resources – and they are not necessarily openly licensed [5]. They should be also distinguished from traditionnal distance learning programs since they are open and free of charge.

The MOOC movement rose in 2012, but the term was coined in 2008. The spirit has changed drastically since the launch of the first MOOCs in 2008, when empasis was laid over interactions between participants rather than on content delivery. In the first MOOCs, instructors’ role was to moderate interactions; those courses are reffered to as connectivist [6] MOOCs or cMOOCs. When the movement spread in 2012 and prestigious universities joined forces with MOOC providers surch as Coursera [7] or edX [8], the new wave of courses initially followed a more traditional design, with lectures taking a far more important place in the course design. MOOC pedagogy has evolved quickly since then and various designs have emerged, team projects gaining an increasing importance, for instance. Despite the diversity of pedagogies, the implementation of a MOOC generally follows the same seven major steps : project qualification, recruitment and partnerships, course design, resources production, course promotion, running the class, project analysis and valorisation. We thereafter give a more detailed view of each of those steps.

First of all, it is necessary to define the primary target of the course. Is the MOOC meant for specialists or non specialists? Is it practical or mostly theoretical ? Based on your analysis of the primary target of the course, you should assess whether there is an actual demand from online learners. There are numerous reports that provide valuable information on the number of registrants and completers of different MOOCs, as well as general information on the use of MOOCs [6,7,8, 8bis]. It will give you a better idea of successful topics. If the prerequisites are too high, and if the course requires complex skills or specific equipment to be followed, it is unlikely to become massive. Even if all MOOCs are not meant to attract hundreds of thousands of registrants, the ability to scale up is one of the major advantages of a MOOC.

Finally, you should define the objectives of the course, from an educational perspective. What aspect of the learning process do you intend to emphasize on ? Some value the transmission of knowledge through high quality content while others insist on interactions between participants, or learning outcomes and assessment. Based on these objectives, one should define criterias of success, which can be the number of views of a video, the number of participants active in the forums and the social networks, of the number of registrants that complete the course. Finally, a benchmark needs to be set in order to identify potential partners and competitors. Even if there is no MOOC on the particular topic you intend to adress, there may be online ressources or courses that deal with the topic.

Producing a MOOC does not necessarily require expensive equipment but it does imply important amounts of time and various skills, ranging from pedagogy to project management, video editing, or community management. Usually, hundreds of hours are needed in order to design the first iteration of the course. It may be wise to share the burden between different instructors, and to get eventually the support of a technical team for video editing. Moreover, a project manager and a community manager need to be identified, as well as someone responsible for the learning management system. Recruitment is a crucial step since the success of the project will mostly depend upon the motivation of the pedagogical team.

Although its is possible to host one’s own MOOC via open source solutions, installation and administration of a learning management system is a time consuming and skill intensive job. Consequently, MOOCs are often hosted by third parties [13]. The choice of the hosting platform is highly strategic, because available features have a deep impact on the course design, and its visibility on the number of registrants. External tools can partly substitute for absent features but can raise ergonomy and data management issues. Regarding recruitment of participants, even an efficient communication plan will not necessarily counterbalance the poor visibility of a platform.

Once the different partners have been clearly identified, course ownership, licensing and eventual business models should be set and agreed upon [10,11]. Course ownership will depend on the agreements between the different stakeholders : instructors, institutions, hosting platform, video producers, among others. Finally, the choice of the licence, proprietary or open, will have strong impacts on the future of the course, such as potential business models. We will talk about the remaining issues in the coming articles.

PS : Certains auront peut-être été surpris que je propose un billet dans la langue de Shakespeare. Cela fait suite à de lointaines discussions sur la pertinence de proposer des billets en anglais sur Educpros (avec Emmanuel Davidenkoff, que vous connaissez si vous écoutez chaque matin Questions d’Education sur France Info). Ils ont d’ailleurs fait un certain nombre d’articles en anglais ces derniers temps chez Educpros, peut-être l’avez-vous remarqué. Je m’étais alors dit qu’il faudrait en proposer un ou deux, pour essayer, mais la qualité approximative de mon anglais m’avait quelque peu découragé. Seulement, j’ai rédigé un petit guide des MOOC pour le Commonwealth Of Learning. Et après avoir obtenu leur autorisation, je me suis dit que ça pourrait être sympa d’en diffuser des extraits, histoire de voir ce que ça donne… Vous aurez donc le droit à deux ou trois autres billets de ce type dans les semaines à venir.

[1] Daniel, S. J. Making Sense of MOOCs : Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility Journal of Interactive Media in Education  

[2] Butsher, R., Kanwar, A. Basic Guide to OER, Commonwealth of Learning :

[3] Khan Academy website :

[4] MIT Opencourseware :

[5] Keeping MOOCs Open (Creative Commons)

[6] Siemens, G. A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

[7] Coursera website :

[8] edX website :

[9] University of London, Massive Open Online Course Report 2013

[10] Open2study research reports 2013:

[11] HarvardX and MITx: The First Year of Open Online Courses :

[12] Hollands, F.M., Thirtali D. MOOC expectations and realities :  Full report

[13] Young, J.R. Inside the Coursera contract : how an Upstart company might profit from free courses.The Chronicle of Higer Education, 2012.

[14] Ry Rivard. Who owns a MOOC ?  Inside Higher ed, 2013

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