The Problem of Audience in MOOCs

A few weeks ago, I delivered a webinar with colleagues on the design of MOOCs as part of a series, MOOCs by Design. The basic premise of our presentation is that the sheer diversity of the audience in MOOCs creates a number of design challenges.

When designing a “traditional” online credit course, certain assumptions can be made about the learners, no matter how diverse the student body, given the homogenizing effect of the application process, the incentives and costs associated with credit, and the standards of rigor and credentialing established by the disciplines. In contrast, learners in MOOCs undergo no such homogenizing process, and enter the experience with incredibly diverse educational backgrounds, English language proficiencies, access to technologies, and motivations. The diversity of MOOC learners create, then, a number of design challenges.

We suggest several ways to navigate those challenges in the presentation, with the overall guidance that it is best to design a MOOC oriented around the institutional priorities, but that affords as many options and pathways for students as possible.

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