From Good to Great: What Is the Key to MOOC Success?

By Anna Meixler


Though standards in MOOC production exist, not all MOOCs are the same. Some courses thrive, with hundreds of thousands of active students – like Stanford University’s computer science courses in 2011. Others of similar quality fail, with few students watching course videos and taking tests to complete requirements.

Instructors of successful MOOCs plan diligently and partner with qualified institutions that provide technical, creative, and strategic support. Professors collaborate with experienced teams at specialized start-ups like iversity to not only launch MOOCs, but also ensure their success. Success lies in how MOOCS engage students, promoting community. This requires consistent effort from and interactions between professors and students.

Like in a traditional class, a professor designs his syllabus and writes homework assignments and tests. But he must adapt his teaching to the online medium. Lecturing thousands of students by video is vastly different from a few hundred in a lecture hall.

MOOC instructors divide material; rather than allotting 50-minutes for each subject, professors partition it into shorter clips. Instructors practice lecture scripts repeatedly. Successful instructors do so with unique obstacles in mind: they cannot respond to audience reactions, and also must lecture so that international listeners with different cultural backgrounds understand material.

While recording their videos, instructors polish monologues with partner organization support. These teams mark professors’ mistakes, editing them out. They help instructors navigate MOOC technicalities: computers, microphones, cameras, and lighting are coordinated to produce attention-grabbing videos. Teams also use animators to enliven content.

Professors and students must be active participants. Instructors, with guidance from their partner organizations, make platforms for discourse. They monitor and participate in class message boards, posting feedback and responding to student input. They give frequent assessments, making sure students grasp material.

Students engage in discussion threads, and, if inspired by course discussions, also create their own forums. Active students start Wiki pages with notes, hints and links to supplementary content. They often interact over Facebook and Skype, and give instructors critical course feedback. Professors present material but let students take center stage, discussing course themes on chat forums and Twitter.

Successful instructors are diligent with online forums. Productive exchanges are structured; 40.000 people cannot all participate in the same Google doc, as forum postings can grow chaotic. Professors divide students into groups, in which they discuss different topics in alternate forums. Regardless, message boards can fail if students post early then disengage, or enter discussions late and cannot catch up.

There is much work to be done after MOOC videos are recorded and tests are written. With professional partner institutions like  iversity, instructors create the structures necessary for high-impact courses.