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Planning a MOOC

An effective MOOC begins with meticulous planning. Take time to think ahead about your goals, your learners’ objectives, and basic instructional design principles.

For additional guidance, see Producing a MOOC and Deploying a MOOC.

The MOOC planning process begins with a series of questions that will be addressed in this section:

  1. Who is the target audience?
  2. What are the course and module learning objectives?
  3. How will learners know if they are making progress (i.e. formative assessment)?
  4. How will we know if learners have achieved the objectives (i.e. summative assessment)?
  5. What modules do we need to teach to help learners achieve the learning objectives?
  6. What materials and media will we use to teach each module?
  7. Who will teach and contribute to the course?
  8. How will we cultivate the course community?
  9. How will we gather feedback from learners?
  10. What are our institutional goals for offering this course?

Defining a target audience

Think about the characteristics of your target audience, including academic background, work experience, skill level, and intended career path. These chacteristics will help guide many of the decisions that follow. Remember that your MOOC has the potential to reach a large and diverse community of learners. Many will be part of your target audience, but many others will come from different learner populations; you should also plan to welcome and accommodate them to the extent that you are able.

Course and module learning objectives

Effective learning objectives specify what learners are expected to understand, know, and be able to do at the end of an entire course or an individual learning module. Learning objectives are important because they increase instructor transparency, learner awareness, and reflection. See JHSPH Guide for Writing Learning Objectives and Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Formative assessments

Formative assessments are low-stakes assessments that reinforce key takeaways, help learners assess their progress, and identify opportunities for improvement. They are typically short and appear frequently throughout a course in the form of in-video quizzes or standalone exercises with elaborative feedback to guide learners.

Summative and formative assessments

Summative assessments are tools for evaluating learning and progress toward the course and/or module learning objectives. Summative assessments take the form of graded quizzes, peer reviewed projects, and machine-graded programming assignments. See Effective Assessment in a Digital Age: A Guide to Technology-Enhanced Assessment and Feedback.

Schedule of learning activities

The schedule should be calibrated to both the topic being taught and the characteristics of the target audience. A complicated topic should be taught at a slower pace than a straightforward one, and a busy professional audience requires more time than typical full-time students. However, the self-paced and flexible nature of most MOOCs means that the many learners are likely to set their own pace regardless of an instructor’s recommendations. A typical MOOC consists of 1-2 hours of learning (lecture, reading, discussion) and about 30 minutes of formative and/or summative assessment per week. In general, individual video lectures should be broken into 8-10 minute sections.

Lecture format/medium plan

MOOC instructors have a wide variety of formats at their disposal, including green screen lectures, narrated slideshows, animation, interviews, screen captures, and documentaries. Some of these formats are available in our Video Lecture Gallery.

Each has its own pedagogical, logistical, and financial pros and cons. Instructors should weigh all of the relevant factors when choosing a format. Although appearing on screen can help an instructor generate more teaching presence and connection with learners, similar results can also be achieved with well-produced and engaging audio.  On the other hand, there are some skills that simply must be demonstrated visually, requiring an instructor to opt for video or animation. You should avoid appearing on screen when teaching a topic that is evolving rapidly; revisions and updates are implemented much more easily and cost-effectively in an narrated slideshow format. In short, there are pros and cons to each medium.

Media Report Card

Instructional personnel

Lead instructors, guest lecturers, and teaching assistants should be carefully chosen on the basis of expertise, availability, flexibility, and commitment to the project. Like any course, an enthusiastic lead instructor and core team are critical to the success of a MOOC. It’s also important for the team to have sufficient space in their professional schedules to devote to planning and production before the course launches and to forum participation and course improvement during the deployment phase.  In most cases, instructors will need to engage the services and expertise of JHU staff who specialize in online learning, production, and instructional design. Please see the list of divisional teaching and learning centers.

Course community

Communicating with learners and fostering an active community of inquiry are among a MOOC’s most rewarding features. The course discussion forum is the primary venue for communication and community building. The threaded discussions provide learners with the opportunity to share ideas, ask and answer questions, and collaborate. Many instructors choose to participate in these discussions as well. Discussion prompts should be inserted at regular intervals throughout the course to encourage conversation.

Gathering feedback

Learner feedback is valuable for a variety of reasons. Feedback helps you identify and fix bugs, guide future revisions, and understand the impact of your course. Feedback can be gathered informally through forum monitoring or systematically through in-course or external surveys.

Institutional goals

Johns Hopkins University encourages its faculty to teach MOOCs because they help us achieve several institutional goals. MOOCs helps Johns Hopkins reach new audiences, recruit highly curious and self-motivated learners, showcase the world-class work of its faculty and students, explore the frontiers of teaching and learning, and contribute to the publicly available body of knowledge. The goals that you choose to prioritize will help to shape key elements of your course and your approach to learners.

Departmental and divisional approval

In order to teach a Johns Hopkins MOOC, faculty must secure the prior approval of their department chair and their division’s administration.

If you want to learn more about how to get started, please complete our MOOC Inquiry Form or contact Ira Gooding, Provost’s Fellow for Digital Initiatives, at 410-955-9280 or [email protected].

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