Designing effective MOOCs

This paper explores three rather loosely connected aspects of MOOCs: 12 dimensions of MOOCs, 5 pedagogical approaches used in MOOCs, and how the 7Cs framework can by used when designing MOOCs.

Conole, G. (2015) ‘Designing effective MOOCs’, Educational Media International, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 239-252 [Online], DOI: 10.1080/09523987.2015.1125989.


  1. Introduction
  2. A classification schema for MOOCs
  3. Using the classification schema to describe different MOOCs
  4. The importance of learning design
  5. The 7Cs of learning design
  6. Conclusion


Issues with MOOCs

Interest in MOOCs may be more due to hype than actual results, which is evident by their low participation and high dropout rates.

There are questions about how to provide recognition for learning in MOOCs. Some options currently in use are:

There also remain questions about how best to support learners in MOOCs. For example, in connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) learner support primarily comes from the participants’ personal learning environment (PLE). In traditional MOOCs, tutors may provide support to learners.

Lastly, many MOOCs have quality issues and ‘to date most have been developed on a fairly ad hoc basis’ (Conole, 2015, p. 247).

Twelve MOOC dimensions

The author contends that there are 12 dimensions by which one can look at and compare MOOCs. Three of the dimensions are related to context:

Six dimensions are about how learning occurs:

The remaining three dimensions are more administrative in nature:

Five pedagogical approaches

Investigating the 12 dimensions of a MOOC helps one identify the MOOC’s underlying pedagogical approach.

Pedagogical approachDefinitionExample elementsExample MOOCs
Associative (operant conditioning)Helps learner make an association between stimulus and response- Drill and practice exercises
- Electronic quizzes and assessments
Free Chinese Lessons : The learner listens to a series of podcasts and then tests their knowledge with online quizzes
CognitiveLearner experiences a stimuli and then reflects on itSongwriting: Writing the Lyrics
ConstructivistLearning is built on prior knowledge- Task-oriented activities
- Active learning
- Problem-based learning
- Inquiry learning
Open Learning Design Studio (retired course): Course starts from the learner's level of knowledge and builds on it
SituativeLearning occurs in a specific context and through dialogueVirtual worldsIntro to Clinical Neurology : Focus is on contextual learning for continuing professional development
ConnectivistParticipants learn from a community of peers- Personal learning environments (PLEs)
- Learner-chosen digital tools
Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (last presentation was 2011): The 2008 presentation was the first cMOOC

Learning Design Studio

Learning Design Studio can be used by professionals when designing a MOOC. ‘It is an alternative to the more established field of Instructional Design. It aims to provide a holistic overview of the whole design process and helps teachers make more effective design decisions that are pedagogically informed and make appropriate use of digital technologies’ (Conole, 2015, p. 246). It addresses needs of teachers who do not use learning technologies in their courses typically because they lack time and support, championship and leadership from senior levels, incentives, and funding to do so.

However, Learning Design may be helpful even within organizations that do have instructional designers even if they are not the primary recipients. It provides:

7Cs framework

Learning Design can be used with the 7Cs framework when designing MOOCs, and doing so may improve overall quality and rates of retention and learning.

Framework components, as detailed in text below

7Cs framework (Conole, 2015, p. 247)

1. Conceptualize the learners and course principles.

2. Create the activities and resources you will use in the course.

3. Establish how learners will communicate with each other and with tutors.

4. Create activities that will foster collaboration and group work in the course.

5. Add opportunities for learners to consider and reflect on their learning.

6. Combine all of the above to make an activity profile and course view or storyboard.

7. Consolidate: Implement and evaluate the course.

See also

Resources and activities for the 7Cs framework:

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