Experiences with making a MOOC

Previously I wrote about my motivation to make a MOOC, a massive open online course, in this post I’ll talk a bit about my experiences in developing the material and my recommendations for developing material.

Use an existing course

If you are running a MOOC and there are thousands of people looking at your slides, everything needs to be perfect. If there is only one comma wrong, people on the forum will complain. Therefore it is a wise idea to reuse existing material, at least partly. Slides and storylines you have tried with students on campus (or elsewhere) and polished a bit will be easier to transfer to online material.

A MOOC is not an online version of your course

This might sound a bit contradictory to the previous advice, but I said: “reuse the material” not “take the whole thing and just perform it on video” Firstly, of course, 45 minutes is way too long for a video, there has been some research into that, and the ideal length seems to be around 6 minutes. In a follow up study, the authors found that even high-quality prerecorded classroom lectures are not as engaging when chopped up into short segments for a MOOC’

So, the way to go is not to just do your 45 minute lecture, chop it up and do those segments on video. A good way to start that I used is to go over your material, look at what these are there. Where are the spots where you normally pause, ask if everyone understand? These could be subthemes of a lecture (a chuck), which you will turn into one video.


Something else that Guo discovered is that ‘videos produced with a more personal feel could be more engaging than high-fidelity studio recordings’. For Guo, this mainly meant making eye contact and making the student feel that the video is being directed right at them, rather than at an unnamed crowd.

Sure, eye contact is the first step, but storytelling is an important aspect too. Don’t just talk about the topic, make stories and tell them, bring yourself into the video.

If you talk about your research topic, it must not be that hard to have stories about the things you talk about. How did you come up with a formula? What went wrong with you ran in experiment into this? What belief you held was turned over by a study?

I do this with the example I use in ex101x: Many of the examples I use are about my hobbies: movies, drinking beers, dancing. Students feel they get to know me, and they want to see more of it.

Assignments first, videos later

We all know that people only learn when they are doing, not while they are listening. So, while designing the material, think about the exercises. For every chunk, think about what exercises goes with it. For most of the material, I talked about the data of the first assignment that students had to do, I guided them through the steps needed to do a certain analysis. After that, students would do a similar assignment on ‘fresh’ data.

The assignments by the way are also a good point to bring connection in. What I did for example is I put an exercise in between two videos where students had to add a column in a spreadsheet. In the next video ‘their’ column would be there. I addressed this in the video too, with something like “now that you have added this column” So, if you have thought about the exercises before you make the videos, that helps in many ways.

A world of possibilities

One of the mistakes I made too in the first version of the MOOC, is to still think about a MOOC as a course: 8 weeks = 8 lectures, and everyone will follow all lectures in the right order. However, this is not true, in an online course, people also come “shopping” they search for a topic, watch those videos and go. That is fine.

This also means not everything has to be linear. We are now slowly experimenting with personalized material: you get a quiz and based on your answer, we direct you to coursework you need to learn. That is really learning 2.0. For my second MOOC, which I am developing now, I try to be less linear.


All presentation trainers ever that told me to slow down and lower my energy: you were wrong, haha!!!!!

Guo also found that ‘videos where instructors speak fairly fast and with high enthusiasm are more engaging’


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