The Learning Design of MOOCs

I got some Gates funding for the MOOC Research Initiative to look at two things: completion data, and learning design MOOCs. The first part allowed Katy Jordan to finish the work she had started in mapping various factors from over 200 MOOCs that influence completion. You can see more of her work here, and I’ll blog on that later.

My part has been using the tools we’ve developed at the OU for learning design, building on Grainne Conole’s work. We use two main tools: the Activity Planner and the Module Map. The first maps student activity across 6 categories, eg assimilative, productive, etc. This is a good way to think about how you want to teach a particular topic. The second one looks at the resources you will need in order to create those activities, and maps them under four headings: Content, Guidance, Demonstration & Communication.

So far I’ve only done the Module Map applied to 14 MOOCs, chosen from a range of providers and to give both x and cMOOC types. I have created two representations. The first is the Resource Type which shows the range of different media used (video, article, text, audio, etc). Here’s an example:


The second representation is more interesting and maps the number of resources used under each of the four categories given above. Here is an example:


Now there are lots of caveats around this. For a start it’s a subjective interpretation (Sheila MacNeill and I did the mapping). Secondly it counts number of resources, not length. So 3 x 10 min videos counts as 3 whereas 1 x 30 minute video is just 1. But nonetheless, I think it gives a good indication of the overall weighting in a course. Here is an example of what I think is a fairly typical MOOC, which actually came up for both x and cMOOCs:


Here is an example of a more extreme end of the xMOOC spectrum, with a heavy emphasis on content:


And this is what a more cMOOC looks like (this is DS106):


I was keen to emphasise that it’s not the case that one design is ‘better’ than another, but rather they are doing different things. Sometimes you might want the content approach, and other times you might want a more activity/community centric approach.

In my talk someone suggested they are like food labelling, and that’s how I’d like to develop them. You could imagine four or five ‘types’ so learners, and designers, could decide what type of MOOC this one was. 

In the next phase we will develop some more of the activity profiles for MOOCs to examine in more detail what learners are doing (or what the course designers think they should be doing). But anyway, it feels like a fruitful way of examining them. You can find all the maps on this wordpress blog I’ve created.


  1. I love the pie as a great visual model for classifying MOOCs. We could put a pie on the front page of each MOOCs so that a learner knew what they were signing up for!

  2. Hi Rebecca, good to see you made it out of Dallas safely đŸ™‚ yes that’s exactly what I have in mind. Not necessarily doing an exact map for each course but choosing from 5 or 6 idealised patterns to give an indication as to what kind of mooc it is (or indeed any course, it doesn’t just apply to moocs).

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