MOOCs: Because people want to learn

If you have been living on Mars for the last few years, MOOCs stands for massive open online courses. They have been around since about 2011, but they really took off in 2012 with the likes of Coursera, Udacity and edX.

moocs-online-learningIn many cases, however, they seem to have run into difficulties. Several high-profile failures, have prompted skeptics to underline their limitations and write them off.

Are they doomed? Are they the future? Nobody knows.

Because there is so much uncertainty, I thought the best way to make sense of MOOCs would be to create one, so I did. I created a MOOC on entrepreneurship with my school, EMLYON Business School.

It’s a six-week introductory course based on effectuation, a particular approach to entrepreneurship that is gaining popularity.

A 29 percent completion rate

The course was in French, and 9,200 participants registered before we closed the registration in the second week. Participants came from all over the world: France of course, but also Canada and especially Africa.

Of these, 2,700 participants finished the course and 2,500 obtained the certification.  While the absolute number of registrations is not ‘massive’, that gives us a 29 percent completion rate and a 27 percent certification rate, far higher than what is observed with other MOOCs one reads about.

So a MOOC doesn’t have to be too massive to be successful (though after one MOOC, I have taught more students online in this single course than I have in all my traditional lectures combined).

What can explain such a result? Mostly it was the social dimension we gave to the course, which motivated participants to continue despite the workload (many of them had a daytime job and a family, and this was the end of the year). This social dimension was achieved  in several ways:

  • First, we ensured a continued presence of the teaching team (ie myself, a teaching assistant and two community managers) on the forums. In total, this gave more than 4,500 forum contributions by participants and the teaching team, a very lively experience indeed. We also grew an active Facebook group to 1,300 participants by the end of the course, and a LinkedIn group with more than 600 members.
  • Second, we ensured that participants could work on real cases and interact with each other. For this, we asked participants who already had a startup project to present it in a dedicated area and solicit comments from other course participants. We called it “the lab,” and it had close to 200 such projects. In fact, discussions on forums related to the lab took a life of their own. Interestingly, the lab wasn’t really planned. It came about only a few days before launch as a side idea, and it was initially meant to feature only a few projects. It took off unexpectedly. Hence, another lesson is that a MOOC is a living thing, and the team must be prepared to react to unexpected successes or failures of particular aspects.

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