How to Build a Successful MOOC? Practical Recommendations Rooted in a Contemporary Research (Literature Review)

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

How can we increase engagement and decrease dropout rates of MOOCs students? Discussing content, structure, communication, interaction, assessment and feedback we summarise findings of contemporary research. The presentation results in a list of practical recommendations for instructional design of MOOC which can be implemented while building a successful MOOC.


Martina Babinska is a researcher and teacher at Comenius University in Bratislava (Slovak Republic). Her research interests include Massive Open Online Courses with a focus on instructional design and Realistic Mathematics Education (RME).

Extended Abstract

Successful Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) attracts students. It motivates them not only to enrol in the course but more importantly, to finish the course. Such courses benefit from reduced dropout rates, higher perceived effectiveness and increased engagement of students.

Every instructor definitely aims to create such a course. She wishes to beat 80-90% dropout rates, to gain an excellent feedback and to provoke active students participation. But the fact is, that only a limited number of courses really reach those goals. The question is then, why? How can we create a successful MOOC? What conditions should successful instructional design meet?

In order to answer the posed questions, we decided to conduct a systematic literature review. With the intention to identify functional approaches that could be implemented into MOOCs, we analysed more than 40 peer-reviewed articles published between 2016 to 2020 focused on characteristics of MOOC which influence students engagement, perceived effectiveness, and retention rates.

The findings of provided analysis indicate that there are two main challenges of online education: customisation and personalisation.

Addressing customisation, instructors need to identify individual learning needs and learning styles and then transform those needs into an excellent content and structure. They have to choose the “right” data and the best and most attractive way off presenting them with deep understanding of pedagogy principles as well as technology opportunities and limitations in an online environment:

  • How can we make the content excellent?
  • What information should be provided at the beginning of the course to motivate students to enrol to the course?
  • Is there any difference between guided and self-paced MOOC?
  • What is the most efficient length and workload off the course?
  • If we decide to use video, is it better to use real time writing (khan-academy like stream) or pre-prepared material?
  •  Is it important to film the instructor in an informal setting?

Personalisation can be positively affected through assessment, feedback, interaction and communication.

Interaction, probably the broadest and the most discussed topic, covers interaction between a student and an instructor, a student and a course, but also between students itself. Instructor, as a facilitator of all kinds of interactivity and communication plays a very important role here. Successful MOOCs need passionate and enthusiastic instructors, who develop interactive and collaborative learning environments for students. As far as students feel as a part of a study group, they are more likely motivated to participate and stay enrolled in the course:

  • What are the characteristics of “the best” instructor?
  • What should we consider in accordance with the forum communication? Should we specially group students and support topic-oriented forums? Is the size of a forum important?
  • We probably are familiar with a term “active learning”. How can we support it in an MOOC?
  • What are embedded questions and Socratic questioning? How can we use them in an online environment?
  • What is hidden behind the term “gamification” in accordance with MOOC?

Assessment and feedback, as two classical instructional components for performance-oriented learning, needs to be re-thought. Most of the students who join online lectures are driven by their personal interest and their work. Their intention is to gain knowledge, not grades, certificates or badges. In that case assessment and feedback completely changes its role in educational systems. They both need to be personalised and supportive. Rather than to compare students with each other, they need to support individual students on their own way:

  • Is it possible to provide accurate and “just-in-time” feedback for every student?
  • Should we allow more than one try in a system-graded assessment?
  • Do individual and group projects play any role in online education?
  • What about peer-reviews? Is it a good idea? If yes, how can we support it?

All those and more questions will be addressed during our presentation. We are going to individually discuss content, structure, interaction and communication, feedback and assessment to provide a list of practical recommendations for instructional design of MOOC, which can be implemented while building a MOOC. All discussed topics will be supported with a rich database of research studies which prove or contradict described recommendations. In that case every instructor can make a deeper examination of problematics which specifically interest them.

Level of Participation:

Sleeping students who carefully watch the time. That is exactly the opposite of a session, we would like to prepare for our audience. Our lecture is planned to be lead similarly than an active MOOC session. To increase active involvement, we would like to motivate listeners to share their experience with the best/worst MOOC design features through the forum. The forum discussion will be moderated, and activity will be highly praised. As for presentation language, we are going to use professional, but opened language with occasional jokes and rhetoric questions to build trust and an open atmosphere. Such an environment will open listeners to new ideas, and after the session they will be willing to study further topics which specifically interest them.