How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it

I don’t usually like to title a post with negative connotations, but there is no way to put a positive spin on my experience with the MOOC I’m enrolled in through Coursera, Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application. The course so far is a disaster—’a mess’ as numerous students have called it. Ironically, the learning outcome of the course is to create our own online course. To be fair, there are some good points to the course, but there are significant factors contributing to a frustrating course experience for students.

Chaos Ahead Traffic SignGroup Chaos
There are three key factors contributing to this course calamity and all link to the group assignment. The first, a ‘technical glitch’ was big enough to cause one of Google’s servers to crash. Another, causing considerable distress to students is the lack of instructions for the assignments and the group activity—there was no clarity provided on the objective or purpose of the groups. I’ll review here what went wrong, highlight students’ reactions to the problems. Though it’s too late to fix the situation now, I’ve also provided a suggestion to the course instructor, what to do for the next course to prevent a repeat of this scenario. And to help instructors or educators be more effective with their own instruction, with group activities in particular, I’ve outlined strategies and tips for the creation and facilitation of group learning activities.

The course started Monday, January 28, 2013 and problems began on day one when participants were instructed to ‘join a group’.  As of today, Friday, February 1, the purpose of the groups is unclear, many students are still looking for a group, and if they are in one, aren’t sure what they are supposed to be doing.

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 3.09.28 PM
One comment from student in a threaded discussion titled ‘This is a mess’ which was started by another student.  So far, there are over 1,000 discussion threads, many with similar sentiments.

How to Prevent Group Work from Going Haywire 
Creating and facilitating group activities in small online classes, (under forty students) can be exceptionally effective in creating meaningful learning experiences, and supportive of the social dimension, which contributes to the building of a positive and effective online learning community.  I’ve written several posts about facilitating group work, which are listed at the end of this post. In short, successful group activities in online courses need:

1) clear and detailed instructions.
2)  a thorough description of the purpose of the assignment, explaining why a group project is required over an individual activity. Highlighting how the student will benefit is a tactic that can contribute to a higher level of motivation.
3)  access to technical tools that effectively support group collaboration, i.e. a dedicated discussion venue for each group (numerous LMS platforms support dedicated group space).

What happens When Group Work Goes Haywire

1) Technical ‘Glitches’: excerpts from the course instructor’s announcements in Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application.

Posted 10:33 am, January 28
Dear Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application Students,
Thank you for taking my class! With so much debate on online courses in general and Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) …. I also hope that you will enjoy this class and that you will have fun.

This course will be collaborative in nature. So the first thing I would like you to do is to join a group. You will be able to do this when you access the course site. You will be able to click on the Join A Group link in the left navigation bar. This will take you to a Google Spreadsheet.…..” [The Google server could not handle the traffic – it crashed]

Posted 12:18 PM, January 28
Hi Everyone,
It has been an exciting few hours. The course has just started and some of you have managed to delete entire rows and columns in Join A Group Google spreadsheet…some of you removed people from their groups, crashed the Google server.  To fix this…. [try logging on again] and If you get a “We’re sorry. Our servers are busy. Please wait a bit and try again” message, please wait and try again. This just means there are too many people trying to access the site…. [This still did not work].

Posted  2:24 PM, January 28
I apologize for the technical glitch that did not allow you to view the Week 1 tab. This caused a lot of confusion for a lot of people. Everything is laid out in order in Week 1 tab. Here is a summary of what you need to do for each assignment [Instructions for assignments were ‘missing’].

Posted  2:48 PM, January 30
I was hoping that the Google Spreadsheet would work after a day but it looks like it will not work at all for our purposes. So I have gone to Plan B. I have created a new Group Sign Up forum. To differentiate this from the groups on the Google Spreadsheet, the group names start with Group A and continues. ……[This method did not work, now they are on Plan ‘C’. Students don’t appear to know what group they are in, with hundreds of ‘threads’ for group discussions, it’s quite mess].

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 11.30.48 AM
Numerous students appear confused (as the two comments show here). Though in fairness, it is the first week the course; students are trying to assimilate to the environment and determine expectations. This does highlight the need for instructions that are detailed and clear. Some instructors have found using a video or audio clip to explain an assignment helpful for students.

2) Lack of Clear Instructions and Guidelines: Instructions for the group work in this  course are vague. It is not clear what the groups are for, or why one needs to join a group. This was not explained anywhere in the course description or instructional video, only instructions of how to join a group.  All of this further confuses the technical issue, begging the question ‘why are we dong this’?

Screen Shot 2013-01-31 at 11.31.21 AM
A student question about the group work which is representative of many other student comments.

My guess is that the instructor is trying to manage the discussion format by providing a more intimate framework to discuss the questions for the given topic of the week. Below is a suggestion for the course instructor of the Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application. For the next course, I suggest the following strategy for the group work:

[Recommended] Instructions for this Discussion Assignment: There are three discussion questions for this week. They are 1) …   2) … 3) …  To gain a deeper understanding and perspective on the topic, I recommend you participate in a discussion with several of your peers. Given the large group, we suggest students form smaller groups, [suggested maximum is twenty students per group] which will provide a more intimate and meaningful dialogue. You may use a platform of your choice, Google +, Facebook, Skype etc. [From my limited experience as a participant in MOOCs, some students form small groups spontaneously, without prompting].

Alternatively, you may choose not to join a small group in which case you can participate in the class discussion board dedicated to week one questions that is open to all participants. Since the discussion is open to the entire class, it will be impossible to read all of the responses. I suggest you post your response and engage with one or two students during the week by replying to students that respond to your post, and respond to those that engage with your initial post. This method can provide a focused and meaningful way to gain a different perspective on the topics of the week.

Closing Thoughts
Group work can provide meaningful learning, in the right context with the support of a sound instructional strategy. The example here from the class, Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application demonstrates why a sound strategy is needed, and what happens when one is lacking. MOOCs require a unique instructional strategy, one that is different from small online courses. What exactly the strategy to follow is under discussion. It is through the courses, such as this one that institutions can learn what works and does not. I give the instructor credit for trying something new, and investing her time and energy, which I can appreciate.

I will be sticking with this course, though I’m not submitting assignments, but I’ll be using the examples, tools provided and experience to hone my own instructional design skills.

Note: I’m also enrolled in Coursera’s E-learning and Digital Cultures, with University of Edinburgh, which is so far excellent.  What I wrote in this post is exclusive to the course Fundamentals  of Online Education: Planning and ApplicationI also completed Introduction to Sociology, through Coursera last year which was quite good.

Sunday, February 3, 2013, 12:23 PM PST:  Apparently after the notice yesterday of suspending the course, Coursera has decided to re-open the class:
“Dear FOE students,
We were inspired to see the number of people who expressed an interest in seeing the class resume. There were some choices made in the initial design of the class that didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped. We are working to address these issues, and are reopening the discussion forums so that we can get feedback on how the class can be improved when it relaunches.Thank you for your patience as we work to provide you with a great learning experience in the next version.

Saturday, February 2, 2013, 4:17 PM PST:  “We want all students to have the highest quality learning experience. For this reason, we are temporarily suspending the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” course in order to make improvements. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. We will inform you when the course will be reoffered.”

Further Reading on Group Learning Activities in the Online Environment

Follow-up Post: The MOOC Honeymoon is Over: Three Takeaways from the Coursera Calamity, Online Learning Insights

MOOC Development Advice from Instructors that Have-Been-There-Done-That, Online Learning Insights

165 thoughts on “How NOT to Design a MOOC: The Disaster at Coursera and How to Fix it

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  2. Interesting post! I found it because I’m currently taking a rather muddled Georgia Tech course too: Energy 101. It’s full of inconsistencies and is poorly structured and edited; although, not as bad as the course you outline here.

    I also did the E-learning and Digital Cultures course, and I still hold it up as the best example of a MOOC to date. Really engaging, well structured and fantastic discussions and assignments.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A wise philosopher once said, “Nothing lasts forever, nobody cares…” [except when it suddenly disappears from the Internet/World Wide Web.] I have encountered this very common Internet/World Wide Web problem again and again known as the dreaded “Website Death” when the sole creator of a website dies or the website is bought by a website competitor and the availability of the information once available free is suddenly discontinued and no longer available or a popular (gaining notice) website is currently unable to handle high volume Internet traffic that it receives and it crashes. The simple solution to this problem is diversification of Open Educational Resources (OER) websites used in any Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). How to find multiple OER websites for any MOOC is as easy as snapping your fingers together by using an International Educational Consortium like MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching)@ and for students Sincerely, J.B. Shaw (MERLOT Member #28)


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  5. The 1st MOOC I did through Coursera in July-August 2014 was run like a well oiled machine (Social Psychology – Wesleyan University). Amazing to read these comments and experience such a change after only 18 months or so.
    Currently on my 2nd MOOC through Coursera, (Inspiring Leadership through EI – Cape Western Reserve Uni), also turning out to be well run and organised.
    I wonder if it is just a function of time? Or was that a flawed course?


    1. Hi Jim, Glad to hear that your experience with your first and second MOOC on Coursera was positive!

      In response to your comments of FOE MOOC, I believe it was a combination of the two, a flawed course design and the timing of the course. Foundations of Online Education was one of the first MOOCs on Coursera, which suggests that the errors made were a function of its newness for sure, though some of the decisions made could have been avoided if adhering to core instructional design principles—starting with analysis of potential learners, learning context, etc.


  6. Found this article when researching for MOOCs and I remember being in that online course. Its was a mess indeed, I even felt sorry for the instructor and for Georgia tech’s reputation, one of the main reason why I signed up.

    Does anybody has an update in this story?


  7. Thanks for the useful information! A course is always great when the professor gives clear instructions and a rationale for the purpose of the assignment. It allows the student to really feel confident about how they completed the assignment and makes them feel like they are not wasting their time by completing “busy work.” I do believe your instructor really did try to fix many of the technical problems; however she needs to find a more reliable platform for the group discussions. Your suggestions at the end were helpful and I wish you good luck as you continue with Coursera.


    1. Hi Rachel,
      You are so right – the rationale and purpose is a key criteria! Adult learners are very discerning, and ‘busy work’ is not viewed favorably, they can see right through it. Thanks for commenting!


  8. Pingback: MOOC | Annotary
  9. I just had a bad experience with Coursera. I am taking their online Genetics 001 class. When I signed up I chose an option to receive a certificate for completing the work for the class with a certain grade. The certificate is described as a nice thing to have but nothing was said about college credit or anything else with much material worth. Two weeks into the class we are suddenly informed that in order to get this certificate we have to join a program to verify who we are when we submit our work. The procedure to sign up requires that we first, type two extremely long sentences stating that this is our own work, twice, in order to analyze our typing and keystrokes. Second we have to use our webcams and their web based software to take a webcam photo of ourselves and also of our state-issued ID. Unlike many people taking hte class who never got told we needed one when we signed up for the class, I have a webcam. The webcam works and it displayed my face. I could not get my face onr the photo ID ot display in the web based software, nor could it take pictures of me or the ID. To fix this we have to post on the support forum and then spend a day or two of our own time fixing OUR problem with THEIR software in order to meet their demand. The demand itself is completely insulting. Who in the world ELSE’s work would we submit? To make it two weeks after the class starts is dishonest. They cannot change the terms on which we can get that certificate in mid stream, no matter whether we are paying for it or not. We have already invested alot of time and emotional attachment in this class.


    1. HI Dora,

      Oh that really must be so irritating and frustrating for you! Thanks for sharing! Your [unfortunate] experience highlights the flaws with the business model that Coursera is trying now establish. They are a for-profit company, and are motivated to establish model that will generate income to satisfy investors. The flaw is that it is backwards – they didn’t have a model when they first started the company, but decided to wait-and-see how it goes. After a year of overwhelming attention and success at attracting thousands of students, the company is scrambling to make money and establish a revenue. Yet now rather than students, they have customers, (like you). Yet Cousera is not thinking of you as a customer, or respecting you as one – spend a day or two of our own time fixing OUR problem with THEIR software in order to meet their demand. The demand itself is completely insulting.

      Really so very backwards and frustrating! Thanks for sharing Dora! Keep us posted! Debbie 🙂


    2. Having taken both signature track and non-signature track courses I think you might be a bit confused. There’s 2 types of certificates issued:
      1) A certificate of completion where your identity is not verified. This is free.
      2) A “Signature Track” certificate where you have to pay a fee and do some things in order to verify your identify, to get a verified certificate which confers a bit more weight and credibility (and in some cases college credit).

      You’re not obligated to go for a Signature Track certificate for courses offering this option, and if you do not, you should still receive a regular certificate if you qualify at the end of the course. (Some courses of course do not offer any certificate at all, but that’s besides the point.)

      In short: It sounds to me like you assumed that the Signature track certificate is the same as the “normal” certificate (which is free.) It is not. You could’ve just ignored the whole Signature track thing when it started coming in.


      1. Hi Walter, not sure if you have ever encountered a difficulty in online courses? Designing confusion out of course material is very important as is acknowledging that participants might not understand and need help rather than speculation on why They feel poorly done by.

        Dora’s comments are of extreme value to designers.


      2. HI Walter

        What Dora highlights in her comment is quite significant – she experienced a numerous problems in trying to be part of Signature Track (which is what she wanted to do). It appears that the instructions and guidelines for doing so from Coursera were unclear and confusing. Which is understandable given that it was recently introduced. This highlights how poor, or lack of communication can be a barrier in online learning. The onus is on the instructional design team of a course to ensure that instructions are clear so the student can focus on learning, and not be caught up in trying to decipher instructions, or guidelines. This is why Dora’s feedback, as Scott also states, is important, as is all constructive feedback from students. It helps the course designers and instructor deliver the best possible learning experience.

        Thanks for commenting and sharing your thoughts.


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  11. If you’re looking for a MOOC done right, look at Calculus One from the Ohio State University by Professor Jim Fowler on Coursera. You won’t find a single negative post in the forum about the teacher or the course. Every student loves it and it’s calculus. It’s ten times better than the traditional classroom. The key here is dynamic. As a student I can’t stare at the same spot for a minute if I want to and that means I can’t fall asleep. I can’t tune out. I can’t get bored. Things are always moving around on the screen, especially his hands, constantly flashing around in the front of my eyes as if saying “wake up, wake up.”


    1. My first MOOC was ‘Introduction to Operations Management’ with Christian Terwiesch (Uni of Pennsylvania) and as you’d hope it was excellently planned and operated without any problems. It was informative, practical and highly challenging and this set a high standard for my future courses which has been difficult to meet until I undertook (currently in Week 7 of 8) ‘Statistics: Making Sense of Data’ with Alison Gibbs & Jeffrey Rosenthal (Uni of Toronto).

      Both courses give clear explanation of what the outcomes are, combine theory with practical examples which you can easily understand in a real world context (despite the math itself being a touch beyond my meagre grasp) and the relationship between these examples & practices and the learning outcomes are reinforced at the end of lectures and through the assessment tasks.

      I’d definitely be looking into Calculus One, thanks Johnny, because my maths is ordinary and I am looking to improve it and if it is of a standard comparable with the two classes I mentioned (and indeed if these are used as benchmarks for other MOOCs) then there is certainly great value to be derived from these courses.


    1. Love your post – perhaps a bit sarcastic (LOL), but your message is succinct. Your closing thoughts summarize it all nicely with the essential steps to creating a MOOC. Are you an instructional designer yourself? If not, thank you for sharing the value that an instructional designer can bring to the table with course design. With MOOCs I can’t imagine NOT using a course designer, but then again the post I wrote about the MOOC Disaster, WAS about a course for designing online learning courses, and written by an Instructional Designer with a PhD. This does not help the case for using an Instructional Designer. Thanks for commenting. Debbie


      1. Yes, Debbie, just a bit sarcastic….I always mean to be ironic and usually end up being snarky. (Irony is classier….)

        I have some ID training, have held “ID” jobs. Yes, that post ends up being a plea for one profession.

        But I was a professor for ten years, so I value the idea that practice has its own validity–when done well.

        Each institution seems to have its own internal workflow around MOOC’s. It’s not really possible to have serious instructional design from end-to-end.

        One danger of instructional design, as with all abstract bodies of knowledge is: some people know tons of theory, but the actual implementation is just skipped over. How many in-service workshops on teaching don’t actually do what they suggest?!

        I believe the theory/practice split is not helpful. We should instead be thinking about types and instances–and we should use instances and types to teach, too.

        Glad to see your blog is generating lots of conversation–and delighted to find you really see it as a space of conversation.


        1. Edward, Teaching, and Instructional Design are an art – I agree. An expert, whether lecturer or instructional designer does need a sound grasp of the theory, but needs to be able to apply it in a real world setting, and make the theory practical. Your point in your post about gaining interest of students in a lecture at the outset is telling of the ‘art’ aspect – it is knowing how to apply the theory, or teach the principles in a way that appeals to the principles of learning, instilling motivation in the learner (ARCS principle).

          ID is the same, I love the foundations, the principles, the models of ID, yet then the practical, creative and experience, and the art takes over in order to make a connection that will support learning.

          I see from your profile you are a runner. I am as well, I also have a running blog,, which I write for somewhat sporadically.

          Thanks for commenting. I am pleased this space has provided readers with a place to discuss and debate 🙂 . Debbie


  12. I have to disagree with people who solely blame technology and organisation for the closing of the course.

    I am enrolled in this course and received the same instructions as the rest of the participants. I had no problems creating a group, enrolling in it, creating the forums pages for the group and for the discussion, there was no confusions at all when it comes to the clarity of the instructions, and english is not even my mother tongue.

    I had no problems accessing the resources (videos, readings, assignments) and completing them. The instructions for the completion of the first week were clear and easy to follow.

    Our group is functionning well, participation is good, we help each other and organize ourwelves. I dont see the problems in our group that were described, and when i read other group’s forum, i see that many of them go similarly well.

    Are we priviledged? Lucky? Superiourly intelligent? I don’t think so.

    I believe the problem has to do PARTLY with the expectation of people when enrolling in the FREE course : be taken by the hand and receive the same level of direction, and support they would receive in a PAYING course.

    It really angers me to see that the technology and staff organization is blamed. I think many students, their negativeness, lack of organization, lack of pro-activeness, and lack of adaptability has a lot to do with what is happening.


    1. Are we priviledged? Lucky? Superiourly intelligent? I don’t think so.

      I guess you were lucky.

      After reading your comment I started wondering if free MOOCs should be only for students who are the opposite of what you are partly blaming:

      their negativeness, lack of organization, lack of pro-activeness, and lack of adaptability has a lot to do with what is happening.

      For sure Coursera would not agree with a restriction on their courses to admit only people who are positive, organized, proactive, adaptable, …

      You were lucky because when the groups started forming there were some people who got kicked out of their groups by others trying to get in (during the Google spreadsheet madness) and then several others were confused by new instructions advising against the previous, new links to click that then disappeared, self-designated group managers that closed groups to new members, among others. Not having experienced any of these is just plain luck.

      Technology and staff organizers do have a part of responsibility in this disaster, although I agree that they are not the only ones. If they assumed all their students to be positive, organized, proactive, etc., then they were just wrong and lacked proper knowledge of their users (a plain mistake) and if they knew then they should have provided a more supportive technology or just don’t propose the group thing in the first place.

      Confronting FREE versus PAID courses is not a good idea. It is an oversimplification. Coursera is working towards its business model which includes paid certificates, royalties for content use in universities, courses-as-a-service. They are not doing this for free. And then they must not do it bad.

      For me the lesson learned is that MOOCs must assume end users in the whole spectrum of personalities, and hence the technology and instructions shall be simple and supportive. I hope the instructors learned that lesson. I wouldn’t like to be in their shoes right now, for them this course was not free for sure.


      1. M. Diaz. I also was kicked out of the group i was trying to join and replaced by other people who deleted my name. I then choose to create a group, to name it so it would attract students with similar interests and to organize the group so it would function witout problem for those with less experience. I wasn’t lucky. I was proactive. When my group ended up with 53 people instead of the 20 recommended people, i didn’t start bitching about the system or technology not working, i simply accespted everyone, adapted to the situation and created subgroups. When people got confused about what they had to do, me (and other in my group) simply helped with giving advices.

        Many other groups didnt not experience any problems because they took charge.

        Online courses have no future if it must simply rely on machines because there will always be technological glitches. That is where human beings, have to rise above the machine and do what they have to do : learn, adapt, collaborate. It just too easy to blame the organisation and the technology, and put it on luck to explain why some succeed where others fail.

        The rule of evolution will take care of those who are unable to assimilate and accomodate.


        1. I think that “the rule of evolution”, if anything, will take care of those courses that are badly designed and rely strongly on people being patient, positive, inventive and proactive.


          1. And confort those who can’t adapt and think creatively that they are not completely obsolete.

            It is also possible that the design is not that faulty (yes they will learn from some mistakes(the googlespreadsheet for examples) and that those who can’t follow will eliminate themselves.


      2. Nathalie,

        Fortunately the future of online courses doesn’t have to be a struggle between relying on machines or on user adaptation. There is plenty of background research on human-computer interaction, interactions design, user experience, that can help a lot. And the first principle of all that is quite simple: know your users, design the system for your users, not for yourself.

        All we need now is to know how to correctly apply all that when designing MOOCs.


    2. I had the same experience as Nathalie. I was able to download the videos and readings for offline viewing (a trick I learned from taking other online courses) and I was able to post to the discussions with no problem. I do think the course could have benefited from a smaller number of enrolled students, if the format was about the collaboration and discussion. Alternatively, I think this MOOC could have ran as a self-paced course as well even with the large # of enrolled students.


      1. It would have succeded as a self pace course, but the design seem to want to have group interaction.

        It would have been easy it have readings and quizzes but would it really have been a mooc?

        Mayve the designers wanted (and got :D) a real challenge?


  13. I was going to take part in this MOOC and was put off by the number of things you had to join (google, facebook etc.) just to take part. Most people have got enough emails and social networks, we don’t need any more. If it can’t be included on the Coursera website, it had better be simple to join and do. I’m on my fifth Coursera at the moment, and they all vary. For me the best I’ve done was the Introduction to Mathematical Thinking (although I couldn’t take part as much as I wanted due to time constraints) regarding student interaction. The Elearning and digital cultures is also looking good on the collaborative aspect as well. I’ve been to three off line universities and you get a variety of professors and courses there as well – some amazing, many good, some terrible. This professor concerned may be in the third category, may not have known what he/she was doing or may not of had enough time to do things properly. We’re on MOOC’s to learn, and we want to be able to do it our way and in our time (you can’t interact as well with a group if you are in a completely different timezone for instance), otherwise we aren’t going to want/be able do it. Most people have to put in a lot of commitment to do these courses, so making it more difficult for us to do them isn’t a good idea.


  14. I’d been looking forward to this course for months and… wow! After looking through the setup I’D deliberately put off doing anything until today, only to find it had been taken down. What a relief!

    I hope it comes back in some form, as the videos were well made and the course contents looked promising.


  15. I second Florencia, did all week 1 assignments, readings and quizzes, and voila! But the real frustrating thing for me is that I started 2 MOOC courses simultaneously and now I am lagging in the 2nd one cause of wrong priorities.
    Morale: don’t lay all your eggs in one basket (or Google spreadsheet) 🙂


  16. Debbie, thank you for initiating this discussion through your blogpost. An interesting aspect of the responses are that people who participated in the MOOC came away with very different experiences.

    We have been researching learning behaviours in Massive Open Online Courses. While environment and learning design influences learning, an important factor is the learner. His/her ability to self-regulate learning, particularly in unstructured, networked environments such as a MOOC, is critical.

    We – Colin Milligan, Anoush Margaryan, Lou McGill and I from the Caledonian Academy in Glasgow, UK – have been researching Self Regulated Learning behaviours in MOOCs. The hypothesis for the study was that we would observe different learning behaviours and different approaches to learning in MOOCs among those with different Self Regulated Learning profiles (which can be measured). The study is outlined at and the call for participants is at:

    We collected data during the Change11 MOOC, run by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cornier. Broadly speaking we found three groups of people within MOOCs: people who expect to set their own goals and regulate their own learning, people who prefer to be ‘taught’ and have their learning structured by an instructor and people who are lurkers. A key factor here is the motivation for joining in the MOOC, which could range from learning about specific concepts, to gaining an overview of the topic to observing how a MOOC is designed and facilitated.

    The responses here align with our findings. Learners within the same course have diverse experiences, probably linked to expectations, motivations and prior experience.

    We havent yet published our study but some initial findings are at:


    1. Allison, Thanks for sharing the details of this interesting research you are doing. I read your post on your initial findings The concept of the behaviours [consume, connect, create and contribute] of participants in MOOCs I found excellent in terms of describing how participants engage, as I can identify with this as a participant, and observer of other learners.

      The comment I have about this course, in context of the behaviours is that due to the course design, students were hindered from consuming, due to the confusing initial instructions (‘the first thing to do is join a group’), and though some students were able to engage in ‘consuming’ the next phase of connnecting was ‘forced’ and controlled which appears counter intuitive to a MOOC, as this is essentially not a student focused model, but an instructor one that is a carry over from the classroom model. For a student to be able to engage at the level they want within a MOOC, in my opinion the structure of the course at least has to be conducive to this, allowing the student to navigate on their own, where the technology and platforms are essentially invisible, in other words are not barriers to self-directed learning.

      Thanks Allison for the excellent references, and I look forward to reading your final paper. Debbie


    2. Thanks for the links Allison. As a follower of MOOCs admitting to being driven mad by design variables is like a badge many of us wear with pride or chagrin. As a method of coaxing learning out the air (and a few found objects) it’s unclear who is responsible to be “teacher” and who the “learner.” Or even if there is a distinction or perhaps a third state.

      Many of the things we deal with on a daily basis don’t come to us with consideration for our ability to use them properly, understand by carefully plotted steps or back-referenced to things we find easily familiar. Living in a time of change is going to be disorientating, uncomfortable, ambiguous and sometimes scary. Have we been taught that everything has to “work” without effort on the first time out or it is poorly designed? For me, I could never figure out “school” and paid for this apparent failure to get-it. Now I see people good at school undone by a bit of disorder, complaining of not learning something from what happened directly in front of them and wonder if they know anything about learning.


      1. Thanks for these interesting comments and observations Scott. Fluidity around roles increasingly is common as the dichotomy between learners and teachers breaks down. One of the places where this fluidity is most transparent is in a MOOC, simply because (some but not all) MOOCs are ‘open’.


      2. It seems that participants that felt like they “could” wade through the problems did OK in this course. Is it a sense of feeling permitted to interact and initiate that characterizes the concept of “open” courses? Forcing people out of sheer frustration to step in is likely not a productive design strategy because it leaves many outside waiting but could it somehow be made less threatening? Could openness go to a stage beyond self-help to sensing others in need and permitting ourselves to intrude on what might be for them an emotionally difficult moment of being stuck or confused. Wonder if there’s a Bloom level of helpfulness? As someone who often went directly to the principal’s office in the morning rather than waiting to be sent there, I imagine my self-made sense of permission was often not appreciated (or helpful:-)


  17. Thank you all for this discussion in this blog about the fundamental course. I was a student in this course. I enrolled on Wed 30/1/2013.
    I was shocked with the way that the course is designed.
    Choosing a group is a big issue. Shearing for a group that has less than 20 people is not practical as actually you look at the number of posts but not the number of students in it. A group might consist of 5 people but each reply to the others with 4 post so that is 20!

    Looking for your group was big issue as well. You need to go and search for it from the search box. That is not health in online environment.
    The team/groups themselves have no rules. Not clear what to do there.
    I was looking for assignment one and what we were supposed to do and it was awhile till I figured out that we are supposed to read and put our reflection in the group discussion!?
    And then what!

    I think these free course are very good. BUT ONE IMPORTANT THING IS #NUMBER OF STUDENTS.
    It can’t be open like this. The instructor should give feedback to students, guide them, follow up their participation, but with this huge number I don’t think the teach can do it anyhow.



    1. Hi Salim
      Thanks for your comment! You are certainly not alone in how you felt in the class. I have taken other MOOCs, courses such as these through Coursera, and the experience has been much different, and though there is still a learning curve for the student, it is far easier to participate and learn! I hope you try some other courses like these, and not be turned off by this course, as they can be a tremendous learning opportunity. Thanks Salim for sharing your experience! Debbie 🙂


  18. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. I loved Fundamentals of Online Education. I was learning a lot. I found it easy to follow and found it well structured. Even the group thing was easily sorted for me. I think a lot of this depends on the student. Some of us are more independent learners than others. Some of us are more tech-savvy. Some of us are more adaptable. Some of us may have comprehended the instructions better because we weren’t frustrated with the lack of guidance, nor were we confused by the use of technology? It’s worth pondering. Ultimately one has to wonder if it was solely the fault of the course designer(s) or if the students themselves have some responsibility in the failure of the course overall.


    1. Hi Stephanie, Thanks for your comment. Yes learners have some responsibility absolutely, though in this instance I am looking at the big picture: the number of students experiencing problems, the focus not on learning, but on technical issues, research studies (as this course was being used for research purposes), and the course in context of other MOOCs. The course design is what derailed the course, caused many students to drop out, and detracted from learning of many. There are many positives of the course, though ultimately the student voices reigned, and Coursera realized there is a problem, hence the announcement to suspend the course. Though it looks like it may be coming up again, so that is good news for those that wish to continue. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. Debbie


    2. Hi Stephanie, good observation on people getting frustrated with lack of guidance. To me a MOOC exibits qualities of community that invite engagement but this is also something I’ve learned from repeated exposure. We’ve trained people in school to expect direction and be given cues to when, where and how they are to respond. If this was practiced in a community setting it would be considered overbearing and I wonder if it might be more useful to lower the divide between the roles we take on to be “dressed for learning” so to speak as opposed to being out and about? Making school a special protected environment may no longer be useful. I know that much of who I am is based on being permitted and supported in challenging passivity and rejecting recommended behaviours. This was not a useful adaptation for the academic environment but sure helps in MOOCs.


  19. This is my first MOOC, and being one of the first hundred or so people onto that google spreadsheet, I found the chaos, and the ensuing participant reactions fascinating. I, like many who posted along the same lines, wondered if the chaos was intended, perhaps to find out if and how learners would sort things out. (We tried, we failed!)

    But I, like many, continued through the material of Week 1, once it finally worked, and was thrilled to see my first grade 5/5. Until I realized that I could have written, “My teddy bear’s name is Mike” with the same result. So I, like many, thought I’d just continue on with the videos and readings, my time would not be wasted, and I would come out the other end with more knowledge and hands-on experience.

    My favourite thread was “List things you would do differently” which was a positive way for many of us to learn from our experiences. At least we all knew what we would NOT do to form groups!

    I was both disappointed and relieved today when I learned that the course was closing down due to the technical difficulties. Disappointed because I was enjoying the readings (although I might have some ideas on how to improve the videos) but relieved because when the course comes back on line, if the organizers take on the suggestions, it will certainly be a fresh slate, with clearer instructions, fewer participants, better group management, and more on-topic discussion. So yes, in just a few days I have learned a great deal!


    1. I was also enjoying the course. I was fascinated by what was happening with the whole group thing and also wondered if it was intentional. It was so interesting to people merge into meaningful group (eg: MBAs, Nurse Educators, Grade 8 History…). I was looking forward to seeing where things would lead. The course was also just a few days old. It was too early, in my opinion to condemn it.


      1. HI Jeni, What an interesting idea! I had not thought of the concept that it might have been planned. It almost seems that way doesn’t it, as you wonder how the idea of creating groups could possibly work. Thanks for your comment.


  20. I learned about the closing of Fundamentals this morning and came to your blog post through the avalanche of tweets that followed. I was enrolled in the course after selecting it, along with “Energy 101″ which is running smoothly and coincidentally it comes also from Georgia Tech, instead of e-Learning and Digital Cultures.

    As a experience it was not completely bad, now I know something new about MOOCs: you can make the same mistakes as in a traditional course only that the effects scale to the massive.

    Other than that I have always had the impression that some teachers want so much certain “desirable” features that they try to force what otherwise is spontaneous and diverse in nature, like class participation, group formation, publication of articles (when students publish their experience somewhere teachers feel so thrilled that they want to force it: “the assignment is to publish an article about your experience somewhere”), and others. That can’t be done. All we can do as teachers is encourage and motivate but if we force that will be counterproductive.

    My feelings are mixed about Fundamentals now. I think at some point Coursera and Georgia Tech realized that the course was going so wrong that closing it without previous notice would be the less damaging action. If I see an invitation to enroll in the future I don’t think it would be that easy to enroll again. As they say, there is no second chance to make a first impression.


    1. Leonel, Your observations are very true, two in particular: 1) the ‘forcing’ of group participation, is counterproductive and contrary to the principles of a MOOC, where participants are self-motivated learners in the first place, and 2) the scale of MOOCs exacerbate any problems which can derail a course and learning experience. In a smaller environment, whether in a smaller online closed environment or in a face-to-face setting, the instructor can ‘control’ the class, in a MOOC the control is lost, students are truly in control in this instance. Thanks for your comment. Debbie


      1. Debbie, thanks for the point about control. I was engaged in another discussion on another blog with an educator who was frustrated by this lack of control in MOOCs and other such open environments. Her critique was that an individuals with years of experience and knowledge was reduced to a moderator and facilitator. I tend to think it is more of moving the instructor into a coach, guide and mentor role pointing the way. So I guess that argument between control and openness is at the heart of many of these tensions. There is a keynote by Gardner Campbell at the 2012 Open Ed conference in week 2’s resources. He speaks to this tension as well.

        Metaphors is another element of week 2 and it is interesting to think on the new ways to speak to for learning, the role of the instructor (and student), achievement, etc in these new spaces. Thanks for the rich dialogue your post has generated.


        1. Hi Felicia, Excellent points you bring up about the changing role of the course instructor. It appears the shift to a student focused model, away from the instructor focus, is a difficult move to make for some. Thanks for the references to Gardner Campbell. Thank you to you Felicia for your contribution to the discussion, it is terrific to see the contributions of so many individuals.


  21. I won’t add to the myriad thoughts on why the course was such a gong show. Instead, let me offer:
    1. – This is a group where anyone involved in the course can ask to join and will be admitted.
    2. – Find the “lost” readings under Week 1.
    3. – Sign up for a 40K MOOC and see how to do it right.


  22. Thank you very much for the post. Unfortunately, I feel more or less the same, but if last night I still hoped that I would eventually get through all this chaos, now when the course is suspended, it is even more frustrating. The fact that the course is free does not excuse letting down the students who were committed to spend some time and put some effort into creating a learning community that was destroyed in its beginning.

    I hope Coursera will learn a lesson out of this disaster, and will ask potential instructors for some quality guarantee for future courses.


  23. I was also very disappointed with the mismanagement and poor pedagogy of the Georgia Tech group, but even more disappointed that it has been suspended! (I’d done all the work very conscientiously up to now;-) )

    It’s true that the videos were cringingly bad — they demonstrated the original meaning of “lecture”: reading a text aloud. The reading assignments seemed to be mostly grey literature, including articles that could have come from popular magazines (Top tips for the classroom) rather than academic journals. That said, we were beginning a great series of discussions in our group (Yay Group 57!), and I enjoyed the input from my fellow participants, most of whom seemed to be highly educated and experienced professional educators.

    The Edinburgh course does not have the same goal for me, focusing as it does more on cultural sociology rather than teaching practices.

    I really hope that Georgia Tech can pull their course back together.


  24. Thank you for taking the time to document this, as the course is now temporarily closed. I still can not understand how they thought 40.000 people would miraculously self-organize themselves via an unlocked (anyone could edit anything) on a single google spreadsheet. And when that failed they had the also terrible idea of asking people to self-organize on forums (which could only work if this was an existing community with a history in self-organisation and a full set of moderators to aid the process).

    Hopefully some lessons have been learned and they will come back with a better planned (pun intended) online course.


    1. Mark, I didn’t experience the Fundamentals class, but I wonder if it was the format in which they asked people to self-organize that really didn’t work. It seems to me, that e-Learning and Digital Cultures class, but providing a multitude of possible entry points and platforms have allowed people, after a bit of confusion and being overwhelmed, to find a place to be and interact. For each person that space is different. So it makes me think that instead of being so prescribed in how groups should form, perhaps just providing lots of opportunity to connect and allow people to find their own path is a better route. At least that is my thinking at the moment.


      1. Dear Felicia,

        it is true the e-Learning and Digital Cultures class, which I also follow, doesn’t have these problems that Fundamentals faced. But this is also because the concept of forming groups in order to work together is completely optional.

        Whereas, on the Fundamentals case, they actually wrote on their first announcement “the first thing I want you to do is join a group”. This made the group process a really important thing. And of course having a single way to do this on a system you can not control (Google Docs) was bound to lead to problems.


      2. Well, in an announcement yesterday (a few hours before closing the course) they wrote:

        “The reason that I have asked you to join groups is to make the discussions more manageable and to allow you to form networks with people in your own field and even with others not in your field. The idea was to create a world wide network of people who can help each other and to start building a world wide online learning community that will provide support and help.

        For now, you can do the readings and submit your reaction to the readings to various assignments in Week 1 without having to post them to the Discussions first or to join groups if you do not want to. The hope that you would post your reactions to the group discussions first was to have you view other people’s posts and start thinking about your own reactions and how they differ or are similar to others. It always interesting to find out how other people react to certain readings. I also wanted you to start thinking critically about not only the learning theories but also the various components of the online environment as this will start the foundation of your own online course.”


        1. So it seems if they had hoped to make interactions more manageable, they might have done better to provide a really good set of strategies or tips for doing that along with multiple platforms to enter, much like the e-Learning and Digital Culture group. This is very interesting to think on. thanks for providing greater detail.


    2. You had groups that when they reached 20 they would kick the extra people out. I had trouble finding a group, I think I tried 3-4 groups. I did find one, but it was very frustrating to receive a post that said this group is moving to … if you are not the first 20 who signed up then don’t follow.


  25. Hi there
    I was doing both Fundamentals and Digital Cultures courses. The differences in both the quality of the content and the organisation of groups was marked but I’d just decided to abandon groups and use the structure of the course to do my own learning.

    The videos were painful to sit through, someone just reading out what was written on the screen – a real no-no taught in class 101 surely? The groups were hilarious. It was like the playground all over again, breaking into virtual circles saying ‘please can I play with you?’.

    I was enjoying the reading material though, and it was sparking a lot of thoughts and extended reading. I wish I’d bookmarked the links to the course materials so I could continue on my own!


  26. My experience too was that the student participation piece was a hot mess! I did join a group as suggested, and I posted a bio as suggested (it wasn’t clear whether to do the two separately or in the same place), and ended up getting spammed by everyone else’s responses to the thread I was on. I just figured that, since I’m so new to this, that I didn’t know what I was doing, so i was waiting for everything to settle and was planning to give it another go. I was so shocked and disappointed that the course was suspended!! I did not like the MOOC, but I had LOVED the readings, and must have spent 10 hours at least one particular assignment– to read “Faculty Focus Special Report: Teaching with Technology”—which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in any aspect of education and technology. I swear, exploring all the links contained in those 13 articles could be a course in and of itself–and it was all new to me and highly exciting. It is clear from ALL the assignments and readings that the professor was excellent and has a lot to offer. Pity that what she wanted to create with the participants was not developed enough to be workable. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things work out.


  27. The Fundamentals class was my first MOOC experience and in just a week, it was really nice seeing folks all over the world. We had our group organized and it really was a self-forming group. I was reading some of the responses to the first assignment and I really liked the efforts folks were putting into them.

    I hope this course will be offered again.


  28. I understand the frustration but my overall experience with Fundamentals of Online Education has been positive. I learned a lot in week 1 by watching, reading, writing and interactive. I’m ‘learning by doing’ which I’ve learned is a valuable learning style. I also recognize that we are on the frontier of the wild west of online education – who knew there would 41,000 participants? And, oh yeah, this course is free!. I’m looking forward to Week 2.


    1. Hi Dave, Glad you are enjoyed the class – though as you probably know by now, the program is suspended until further notice – as per the email:

      We want all students to have the highest quality learning experience. For this reason, we are temporarily suspending the “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application” course in order to make improvements. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. We will inform you when the course will be re-offered”

      Thanks for your comment Dave. Debbie


  29. I was tempted with the mooc you are on but chose E-Learning and Digital cultures along with Philosophy instead. From what you have said here I am very glad that I made this choice. I have not been disappointed with either course so far. I am only disappointed that I have let thirty years go by without any ‘learning’ and so my brain is a little rusty.


    1. Hi Louise. That is great to hear you are enjoying the courses so far. The ‘rusty’ brain will likely get back into shape pretty quickly. Isn’t it great that we now have the opportunity to learn exciting new topics with people from all over the world with these type of courses? Enjoy! Debbie


  30. I hate to disagree, but I’ve had a great experience in the Fundamentals MOOC. Especially regarding instructions, I think it is much better than EDCMOOC, which I’m also taking. To get all the instructions for week one, follow this link:
    There are three modules. You just complete each assignment or reading in order…all the links are directly off that page.

    As for the group, I didn’t get the spreadsheet thing. I just went to the group discussion board, found a group, asked if I could join (I could) and have loved it. The fellowship in the group has been one of the best parts, reading the different reactions to the readings.

    I’m sorry your experience hasn’t been better. I think the readings are fantastic and hope you’ll give them a shot.


    1. Hi Elaine, Glad to hear that your experience is a good one! This is good news! I wrote this post as voice of other students, there is a high level of frustration that many students appear to have had based upon the discussion board posts. This is my point of the post, this could have been avoided. I also approach this from an instructional design view point, so I am also looking at it from that angle. I provided a suggestion in the post that I feel could have avoided many of these issues that so many students could have avoided this experience in the first week of the course, which provides a poor beginning to a learning experience.

      If you read some of the other responses to this post, you will be able to some other student viewpoints. It is good to hear though that your experience is positive. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share.



  31. I have taken several courses on line. Some were more or less chaotic, some ran very smoothly and indeed pleasantly. Right now I am taking one on nutrition that runs quite well. My guess: everyone of us needs to understand how this works, what is good design, and so on. I always keep it in mind during my own incursions in on-line teaching (blended learning, indeed).


  32. I also enrolled in the Georgia Tech course, only to realise the scale of the disaster it was becoming. It was the first MOOC I have taken. It seemed like techniques used for a small group course had simply been replicated in the MOOC, without consideration of scaling issues.

    A disappointment, but I’m glad to read the comparisons to other courses. Reading what others say, I won’t write off MOOCs entirely, but rather be selective about which ones I choose to stay involved with after they open for business.


    1. Hi Carol, It is such a shame that the MOOC with Georgia Tech is such a disaster, as the experience will no doubt turn off hundreds of people like yourself. But I’m glad you read what others have shared, and don’t give up on MOOCs altogether. They can be a tremendous experience for learning, gaining a new perspective on a topic not to mention the benefit of engaging with others from all parts of the globe.

      I highly recommend the Introduction to Sociology Course with Professor Duneier through Couresra. It is an very good course, and the Professor is excellent. The format is organized in a far better way than this ‘mess’. Thanks for sharing Carol :). Debbie


  33. I left on day 2 because I didn’t have the time, or patience, to get it all figured out–just didn’t need another time suck online. It’s about teacher preparedness, or lack thereof, in my mind. I’m currently enrolled in another Coursera course on Critical Thinking from the U of Edinburgh and it has been an excellent first week. I’ve also taken some MOOCs on the CourseSite platform that were well done.


  34. I had signed up for both of the MOOCs you mentioned but because of time limitations on my end, have only participated with the e-learning course and not the Fundamentals. Apparently, I made a good choice as the e-learning is going very well, as you note.

    I am certainly hopeful that the Fundamentals instructors do not blow off the problems as being solely the result of computer glitches, but instead truly address the organizational problems as well. The emails the instructors have sent out to date have only spoken of the technical aspects. Coursera certainly has an interest in seeing things run smoothly. As a general statement, I am not disturbed when things such as this fail, so long as lessons are learned for the next time.

    You raise an interesting point about how students self direct for discussions in MOOCs. I enjoyed that for the eleaning and Digital Cultures MOOC, students received considerable encouragement upfront to communicate and form groups via FB, Twitter, Google+, and to register their blog as well. A group hashtag (#edcMOOC) is reasonably active and informative. Right off, I found a forum study group specific to museums. About 20 folks have subscribed thus far and about one-third actively participate in discussions of the readings. I enjoy this forum discussion a great deal, have been able to direct a few people to the forum when seeing tweets from museum folks that read “first time, how do you engage with 40k people” etc.

    So at this point, what the musuem forum has produced is a very long single thread. The forum participants could organize a separate Google hangout etc. etc. to discuss readings, etc. etc. – When my life mellows out next week, I will make that suggestion. In fact, I suspect that very discussion is completely germane an “e-learning and digital cultures” MOOC. I suspect in the coming months we will see not just best practices for teaching MOOCs but best practices for taking them.

    Balance sheet for me remains that MOOCs are a critical tool in my Personal Learning Environment. Hopefully, the problems in the Fundamentals course will be a learning experience for all. It sounds like it might be a poster-child for problems to avoid.


    1. Hi Robert, Thanks for sharing your experience with the MOOC ‘elearning and Digital Culture’ course, #edcMOOC. What is telling in your experience in contrast to the course Fundamentals in Online Education course, is the way your experience shows how course design shapes the student experience. Case in point, the design in the Fundamentals course, forced group work, yet group work was not a necessary element of the course given the objectives (nor should it be for a course on this scale), however in elearning and Digital Cultures, groups formed spontaneously as a result of a large body of motivated students. The need and drive of eager students with their OWN motivation allowed groups to form naturally, driven by common interests. You were able to find [through social media platforms] other like-minded professionals interested in museum studies. No work was required by the instructor.

      This goes back to my point about instructional design (forgive me if I harp on this, but that is my ‘trade’), the Fundamentals course was designed not for the context of a MOOC. And you are right, the focus was on the technical aspects, not the people or the content. Why focus on a Google spreadsheet?

      I agree that MOOCs present a tremendous opportunity for personal growth, yet it will take time for ‘models’ to form given the newness. Though I do believe there will be many learning models, and not a structured or set prescriptive way for learners to learn, but the design and delivery will adapt and become more specialized over time.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with readers Robert, I am sure many find this helpful. Debbie


      1. Debbie, as you say ” yet it will take time for ‘models’ to form given the newness.”. I wonder way strategies might help more adequately oriented help students build and understand these models. Do you have to go through a MOOC to make sense of it? Can you support students who may be too quick to disengage? How do you help explain the very different way in which learning happens?


        1. Hi Felicia,
          These are good questions. There are strategies that can help students become oriented, as even motivated and self-directed students which are typically the ones taking MOOCs do need support and orientation. Having an orientation period before the class begins, whether it be three, four or five days is helpful. This allows students to become familiar with the platform, the technical aspects in which the learning will take place. By doing so, students can then focus on the learning and content, not the technology when the course ‘officially’ begins.

          Often other students in a class are very supportive of students that are struggling. When a student posts something that says, “I need help with ….” or “I am feeling overwhelmed.. is anyone else?”. This does put the onus on the student who is struggling to reach out for help, yet I have seen many students reach out to other students in MOOCs offering help and support. It is amazing how many people that want to offer support to their fellow classmates.

          It is difficult to identify the different way learning happens, as it depends upon the learners goals and objectives for the course. Each person will learn differently depending upon what they want out of the experience. In the MOOC course it is a PULL concept, meaning learners PULL what they want and need to learn, as opposed to a PUSH approach, where the instructor pushes the content on the learners in the method that he or she selects. The pull approach is appropriate for MOOC learners that are self directed.

          Hope that helps! Debbie


  35. Hi there – thanks for your post, fellow MOOCer! I can now stop feeling anxious that I missed out on a useful MOOC – I think I thought of enrolling on this one but ended up doing too many others (including the digital cultures one which I am also enjoying). They seem to be truly addictive!

    Your tips on how to organise MOOC students sound very reasonable and from experience work quite well in a connectivist type MOOCs, requiring much thought exchange around the ideas presented for a discussion. I have to say that they still do not eliminate confusion and the proportion of those who get lost or drop out is vast (and their frustration expressed freely). I think it is more to do with the learners being too reliant on things getting organised for them rather than being able to self-organise. It is a skill which needs to be developed and too often is assumed, and the tools, strategies and design for a more fruitful discovery and encounters not always provided. ETMOOC blog hub and twitter archive (both searchable) seem to stand above the rest so far in my experience.

    I think we all need to get used to working at that scale – learners and teachers both.

    From your description, this Coursera MOOC seems to be a project-based or a task-based MOOC (a pMOOC if you will) which is slightly different kettle of fish to the typical connectivist/network mooc (such as University of Edinburgh’s eLearning and Digital Cultures) in that it requires/wants the students to aggregate around completing specific, student-determined projects as they work trough the materials. I think such a MOOC also requires a different and a more defined approach to seeding the groups than that required for loose groupings allowing for the exchange of ideas in cMOOCs or even self-help/study groups in more xMOOC-type offerings.

    I have had a, very limited, experience of one other, self-declared pMOOC which is running at the moment – the OLDSMOOC based in the UK. The MOOC focuses on Learning Design of Curriculum for 21st century. I liked how they approached the problem of collaboration at scale by getting learners to declare their own interests and propose their own projects/problems/contexts to be tackled. Then they encouraged everybody to find those with similar interests and develop small groups (I seem to remember 5 members or so which does sound about right for a project group), by either redefining their existing ideas into a single project or volunteering to help with somebody else’s. They provided very good scaffolding on how to make your declaration/structure team spaces. Of course, once you joined a group you were still encouraged to roam the MOOC wilds and contribute your opinions to the general pool. It sounded really exciting and very reasonable!

    Unfortunately, after spending a good day trying to get going with it, I decided to drop out. There were many reasons for this but one most important here was the difficulty of discovering existing teams/study groups which may be of interest to me. The Cloudworks ‘environment’ used by the MOOC did not make it easy. Nor were there any specific suggestions made for the late comers such as me as to what would be the easiest way into the project groups. There seemed to be some disappointment among the early-starters along similar lines – caused by the lack of tools to overview of the existing connections/community, orientation, making connections. To the extent that some of them created groupings within and outwith Cloudworks with heading such as ‘Team Lost’. Despite that, there seems to be a good active OLDSMOOC contingent still going (last heard 300 or so active participants) and I am keeping an eye out for reflections on how well it worked in the end.

    So the design and clear purpose may not be everything at a MOOC scale. Perhaps we, both teachers and learners, need to get used to and learn how to harness the chaos caused by the massiveness of MOOCs.

    Nonetheless, what we probably should keep in mind first, and what would have helped in Georgia Tech’s case, is that we need to make sure that the tools we are using do scale up to 1000s of users and perhaps consult our tech colleagues before we make a decision on what would work! And, as you suggest, always have a back up plan or at least be open to students finding other places to work on their stuff:)

    This was more of a blog post than a comment – but glad that you provided an excuse for me to write it down:)


    1. Hi Kay, Thanks for this [excellent] thought provoking comment/post, and for sharing it with readers! The experience you share with regards to your experience with the OLDSMOOC, is quite interesting. I am beginning to see themes emerging when considering the three MOOCs, OLDSMOOC, Digital Cultures and the Fundamentals of Online Education MOOC. Here are a couple of thoughts:

      1) Expectations. Perhaps we are thinking of a MOOC still in terms of a traditional course experience, where everyone starts at the beginning, and everyone does all the assignments, and all students complete the course. Along with that is the assumption that groups are necessary, or at least desirable. This ‘expectation’ may also be driving the concern in the higher education community about the low completion rates and drop out rates of MOOCs in general.

      Perhaps we are thinking of MOOCs in the wrong way. Maybe we should assume that learners will approach MOOCs with different needs, goals, motivations and have their own set of expectations, and may not complete the entire course. For example, perhaps someone is only interested in one specific topic covered within a MOOC, and is conducting research on this area, and/or wants to gain additional perspectives, read what people have to say and explore content shared by experts. For example, next week in the elearing and Digital Cultures course, the focus is on MOOCs, in context of learning and digital cultures. There may be several participants interested only in that specific area as part of research, personal interest or other. They may only participate in this one week; may actively participate, or not, but will extract and construct knowledge that fits into their goals/needs. In the traditional thinking, this person is considered a ‘drop out’, which in some contexts assumes failure.

      2) Technology. Given, my point above is a rhetorical question and concept. And then there is the reality, as you shared, for those that want to participate in a MOOC fully, are eager to join a group and actively collaborate as you wanted to in the OLDSMOOC, but were unable to because of technical barriers to finding like minded people. Just as in the Fundamentals of Online education course, there were [still are] significant technical barriers which hindered and comprised learning within the course.

      Thanks Kay for your post, and taking the time to share your thoughts. It is conversations like these that will help the MOOC movement push forward and help all of us to keep learning. Debbie


    2. Kay you write

      ” I think it is more to do with the learners being too reliant on things getting organised for them rather than being able to self-organise. It is a skill which needs to be developed and too often is assumed, and the tools, strategies and design for a more fruitful discovery and encounters not always provided.”

      How do we help students orient and develop these skills? I will check out the ETMOOC blog hub you sugggest you suggest


      1. Re OLDSMOOC, Team Lost was self-organised by students to provide support for latecomers – I didn’t see it as a criticism of the course, more a landmark for new people to go towards. Other student-led initiatives included generating Facebook, G+ and RSS channels, and one of the students is developing a pre-MOOC course as her project (it’s a pMOOC) precisely to address some of the issues new MOOC-ers encounter.


      2. Peter, the idea of a pre-MOOC or orientation session for newbies seems like it could be helpful. Also, re-orienting or using new metaphors and mental models to break out of the traditional classroom mindset might also be of use. Thanks for the reply.


      3. Hi Peter, I never thought of the Team Lost as a criticism (and I was a member of the team for a short while:))! I gave it as an example of what can happen in a early mooc confusion and learners finding their feet – including creating their own spaces…The question is really how much can we as course designers really do to prepare learners for the MOOC experience. I think OLDSMOOC is doing a great job and regret that I was not in a position to continue with it in this edition – hoping to perhaps jump on board when/if it runs again…especially if I have I more concrete idea for a project to work on (I think pMOOCs may be inherently harder to lurk in or join in an erratic fashion as I tried to do – a lesson for the future!). Will be looking out for the output for the pre-MOOC MOOC from the OLDSMOOC work!:)


  36. I too had signed up for this course and was quite excited to complete it with the creation of an online course of my own. But unenrolled really quickly, well before reaching this confusion with the group work.

    The thing that put me off was the meandering, unengaging video lectures—not to mention their poor production quality.


  37. Hi – just to say I totally agree. I signed up for both those moocs – the one you are referring to above was a total mess and they had obviously not thought it through at all. I signed up to a group as requested and found that my name had been removed several times over. I gave them a bit of time to sort it but it didn’t seem to improve, so I unenrolled. I spent too long trying to engage. The digital cultures one however is really good and well organised. I am definitely going to stick with that one.


    1. Wow. I’m in the digital cultures one and I thought that everything they said in this article is true about #EDCMOOC too. I’m having a horrible experience. Wandering around lost like Hansel and Gretel joining groups only to have them go defunct. I’m going to stick with it, but it feels like taking medicine–not the exciting experience that the advocates make it sound like.


      1. Hi Joann,
        I am so sorry to hear you are having a bad experience in the e-learning and Digital Cultures course! It is normal to feel overwhelmed in the first week, even more so if this is your first MOOC in this format. Were you able to listen to the Google+ Hangout today put on by the course instructors? It was very good, as they each addressed an aspect of the course, and seemed to address many issues that student have been dealing with, how to participate in discussions, how to prepare for the final assignment etc. If you were not able to listen/watch the Google hangout, it is recorded, and you can watch it from this link: (it is on the announcement page)

        Here are a couple of other tips that might be helpful:
        – There is a Twitter Chat planned for this Saturday (tomorrow) by some students of the class (I can’t participate as I am taking my daughter for college visits). If possible even watching the ‘feed’ may help, and you if can participate. I am not sure of the time perhaps ask the question on Twitter with the hashtag, and you likely will get answer. #EDCMOOC.
        – Select one of the threads started by one of the instructors within the week to respond to and focus on this one for the week. For example here is one from Dr. Knox : We loved the quirkiness of this short film, and the original way it deals with contemporary social exchanges. How do you think it might suggest utopian or dystopian ideas about the nature of communication in a mediated world? What kind of educational debates can we draw associations with here?
        – Spend time on the questions you select to respond to. Post a one to two paragraph post after you have engaged with the content applicable to the question.
        – Read several of the other student posts in the same thread. Select one or two to respond to, and make a contribution to their post, by asking another question, or providing a different perspective, or a resource etc. This adds value, and provides opportunity for the student to respond to you and thus engage in discussion.
        – Respond in this same way to those that might respond to your initial post, (but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a response to yours)

        These are just a couple of ideas that I have found helpful when participating in MOOCs and other online courses. It is impossible to focus on all discussion boards/threads and read all posts, start by focusing on a specific area of the topic for the week, and delve into that. Participate/watch when possible any discussions or chats. Read and respond to blog posts of other participants as well.

        Hope that helps! I encourage you to stick with it. 🙂 Keep me posted. Debbie


      2. Totally agree Joann. This is the third MOOC I’ve tried (Edinburgh). It’s better than the other two (George Siemens Learning Analytics and Kurt Bonk) in terms of content but I have no clue what we are supposed to do or how to do it and I don’t think I’ll stick it. I think that academics are used to teaching people whose main focus is education and who have a good amount of time and focus, but the rest of us are trying to carve out time with difficulty for MOOCs. So we need REALLY clear instructions that work and are easy to follow so that we can use that precious time for thought and reflection in order to construct our knowledge… The problem is this instructional approach looks like “training” to people versed in “education”, something they abhor, when they should be learning from what works in eg industrial self-guided online training.


  38. Seems you are part of a Grande Experiment! A guinea pig, a test case, a trial study. A learning experience! Both for them (the scientists) and you the Students (Test subjects?).
    Out of curiosity (questions are asked in no particular order):
    a. The students, does anyone know the age range?
    b. Doe anybody know their existing education, experience, etc?
    c. How many of the students are “just students”, how many are “some sort of teachers”, how many are “administrators”, how many are just “curious people”? Any ideas?
    d. Do any of the students know the instructor, facilitator, or whatever this person might be called?
    e. How many people were expected to join? How many actually joined? How many had dropped out? How many are expected to continue?
    f. What is the cost of the course?
    g. What is the term (duration) of the course?
    h. Is there any “provable credit” to taking and completing the course? Are any records kept?
    i. How many people are “real students”, and how many are “lurkers” or “curiosity seekers”?

    Bear in mind, I am just an average person, 57 years of age, I have never taken a MOOC (I have no idea how to find one or sign-up anyway… Nor much [currently] desire to do so.) But you see, that is part of the issue. If this is only for kids, or people who currently work in education, or current college/university students … that is one thing. Not very high standards will be required. But if/when they try “hit” the general public, they will need a working, mature, usable product. else, the reputation of the entire establishment will be trashed, and brutally.

    Please forgive all my curious questions. But they may inspire you, somehow…. So I may have done you a service. At least, I intended no harm. Pete.


    1. Hi Pete,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, and asking such great questions! I wish I had all of the answers to these, and many have readers likely have similar questions. MOOCs have been a hot topic in the higher education community in the last year, and the last few months have been particularly active. I have a bookmarking application called, Pearltrees where I tag articles on interest. I have a collection of articles on MOOCs that you may find interesting, many address some of your questions. If you are interested, visit this link,

      I also want to address your astute point about being ‘guinea pigs’ in this class Fundamentals of Online Education. For readers that are not in this course, to give some background, it appears that participants are being used for a research study the instructor is doing on MOOCS perhaps? It was not made clear to students, (quite annoying), and I would not have minded so much had she been more upfront. Instead part of the week one ‘assignment’, appears to be answering questions about our group #s, etc. for the first four questions, then question 5, you can submit your answer to the assignment question, for ‘grading’. For the benefit of readers, I’ve included what is presented on the course home page:

      “Assignment 1.1
      -Questions 1 – 4 are optional.If you answer questions 1-4, you are agreeing to take part in our research study. There are no points awarded to Questions 1-4. Whether you answer them or not will not affect the number of points you get for this Assignment and will not affect your overall grade.You only have to answer Question 5.

      -Please copy and paste your posting from Discussion Forum 1.1 and click Submit.”

      Here are the questions as per the course home page:
      1. Enter your current Group Number (it should be the Group Number of the group you registered in on the Google Spreadsheet):
      2. Did you move groups this week?
      3. If yes, what was your previous group number?
      4. If yes, that is, you changed your group, then why did you change it?
      5. Copy and paste the information that you posted for Discussion Forum 1.1 in the text box below.”

      Thanks Pete for your comment!


      1. This was my first MOOC. I had done all the assignments, the quizz and the readings, and finished everything before the due dates. We had a good group going, and would have made the course interesting for each other, even if the reading and the lectures where not mind blowing. Frankly none of that mattered to me too much as I wanted to have the e-learning experience. I feel a bit cheated, and don’t understand why they needed to close it down. Unless they decided that it was really a course geared towards researching us more than on actually e-learning, but then why didn’t that come up earlier? I can´t imagine why you would have the instructions for the assignment in a separate page from where you answer? I never filled the ‘research’ questions, it was too strange and the purpose of the research was not explained, which any ethical research would have clearly stated objectives. In the end it gives you the impression that we were only ‘guinea pigs.’ It was a strange experience, e-learning has not made the best of impressions. Having said this, I will try again.


      2. Well, if it did not cost you too much in time, effort, money (There is not such thing as a free course, there is always a “cost” somewhere. That’s not me. Economics says that.), then at least you learned something from it, as a “personal thing”. So it is not a total loss! Just a painful episode. Indeed, it may, in the long run, be useful to you. For one thing, you will investigate the next MOOC you take, more carefully! All things tend to have “birthing pains”…. And so to with this sort of thing. Wishing you a better experience next time!


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