How do you design and facilitate a year-long MOOC?

The future of how learning is delivered in the workplace includes Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Jo Cook speaks to Craig Taylor, Solutions Architect at HT2, to find out more.

I am always keen to look at how something new can support learning and development, whether it is a model or a technology. Recently I have been dipping into the technology aspect, including using AnswerGarden to publicly ask people what they think of the amount of new technology for learning – the answers so far are in the picture above.

I was encouraged to look at this, and other technology, as part of an online course called “Future Tech: Elearning Beyond the Next Button.” I thought I would get the thoughts of the course designer Craig Taylor, about this way of learning.

What is a MOOC and why should people care?

By its strictest definition a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course. I think its name does exactly what it says on the tin – more often it can be tens or hundreds of thousands of users. It’s “open” if you have the internet and time. They are “online” and they are a “course.

The definition is fairly fixed, which in many respects is also its downfall for corporate and workplace learning. This is perhaps why people should care: MOOCs were born out of further and higher education with ridiculous amounts of success. They challenged old ways of further and higher education thinking. However, they have not had the same amount of success in corporate and workplace learning.

I did a straw poll before the Learning Solutions Conference in Florida earlier this year and it was the ‘online course’ aspect that resonated with workplace L&D – the need to deliver content and be scalable, cost efficient and global; and the ‘massive’ and ‘open’ part that seemed to be the sticking point.

“The audience may not be massive, might not be in the hundreds – it could be in the tens. It confuses people. The open aspect worries people. A large corporate blue chip business with commercial sensitivities won’t want the public to attend internally.

It’s a huge challenge and there’s been huge disappointment. There are lots of things that, if you look at how MOOCs are designed and facilitated, that people in corporate L&D can take away from it. VOOC (vocational), SPOC (small private)… Jargon, acronyms… I just think to myself, ‘is this not just an online course!? Why the need to pre-fix it?’ It has probably added to confusion.

Why should we care? Because the education system has had huge success. Corporate can do too, internal or external – SAP and Adidas offered to clients or potential customers, what a brilliant idea! There’s definitely something in this type of approach, or round the edges, to take and use as we do business.

How do you design a MOOC differently to “blended learning?”

It might not be. There are different types of MOOCs. Some are ‘watch this and read this; here’s a quiz/question’. That’s not billion miles away from traditional e-learning. There are also some MOOCs where the content is important and a catalyst. What’s more important are the social aspects and conversations.

Your latest MOOC is a 12 month course about technology in learning. How do you design a year-long MOOC?

It was never intended to be that long! Most of the ones I’ve designed at HT2 were about four to six weeks. A lot of the MOOCs that I’ve attended over the years are about that amount of time too. We’ve run lots of those in the past. What we wanted to do is push the boundaries around what people perceived a MOOC to be. I came up with the design of a short, sharp, focused MOOC. This was only going to be a “getting started” level with an activity for research about technology. That was it.

We discussed internally about where can we take some emerging technology and go with that. Then we do a MOOC on wearables, one on Artificial Intelligence and so on. That would be 12 MOOCs minimum, all different subjects, but all come together on how to improve people’s performance in the workplace. The lightbulb going off was to take the short course as the introduction and starting point and then each month of the year look at a new, current, emerging or slightly different technology that might not be in use in most workplaces.

To your point about design, I haven’t designed it yet, I’m still building it! The benefit of the modular approach is that I can be building it up to midnight the day before. So it’s not old; it’s fresh as I am building it now.

The iterative approach to the design has its benefits including fresh elements and being able to create a buzz around it at the beginning of each month. It’s not the same if you are doing something at the beginning of the year. The downside is waiting for the level to open if you are interested in a particular type of technology – it’s not a perfect design model, you are always going to gain and lose. At HT2 we are always experimenting and researching so we can share those findings.

At the other end of the spectrum of this year-long MOOC, we also have a 48 hour MOOC we ran in April. There might be different reactions to it only being available for a short time will it be a valuable commodity as it won’t be around for long? It’s called 48 Hours to Better Sales Training and is designed so that we can focus on the business problems our clients are experiencing.

What skills and approach do you need if you are facilitating a MOOC?

I had personal experience of being in a MOOC as a participant with tens of thousands of other people and it felt quite cold. There are 200,000 people all saying something at the same time and you are lucky to get an interaction or response. I didn’t want to do that in our MOOCs. We have a targeted audience and less people on each course.

What I’ve always done, and hope I’m always able to do, is that I always get back to people when they introduce themselves in the first activity – that lets them know I’m a real person. I’ll try to pick out something, such as a topic or work area, and relate it to the course. I’m trying to emulate what happens in a face to face classroom. That’s relatively easy to do in the intro, but when the conversation goes into the other levels and topics in can become a nightmare.

In the early days I felt a need to respond to everybody and was up to the early hours. But it’s not scalable; I learnt to step back. I realised a good facilitation point was to model what you expect others to do, demonstrating how you want people to behave, and implicitly you are giving people permission.

My first week facilitating the MOOC was harrowing and exhausting. The second week I stepped away for a few hours to work on another project. When I came back people were having conversations and dialogue. Would they have done it naturally? I don’t know, I don’t have data to say. Part of me thinks that the hard work I put into the first week helped people and made people realise that it’s ok for me to give a thumbs up as I agree or go and comment, ask or answer a question. That early modelling of what I think a good social participation in a MOOC is helped people.

My tip would be to make your interaction as personable as possible, but keep it scalable, and model the behaviours you want other people to take. I’m not brave enough to remain hands off as there’s a risk with that. My first week in any MOOC will be harrowing, but I’m confident that people will pick it up.

The other aspect of facilitation is realising that people don’t expect you to have the answers. I’m not an expert in Virtual Reality, wearables and so on. I’ve curated content and brought things together, but there are people who know more than me. I’m there as a facilitator, not a subject matter expert (SME). It’s knowing when to engage and when to step back, perhaps getting people from outside of the course to run live events (such as a Google Hangout) or people you know in the course who know something. Are you the SME or the facilitator? You are usually one or the other, not both.

What is the future of MOOCs?

Hmmm. Really good question. What do I hope for workplace MOOCs in the future? MOOCs have had an impact in the workplace, but it hasn’t been the same as the education sector. I hope we focus less on the massive/small/open/private variations on the theme. I hope that people who work in L&D roles enrol on some MOOCs; with different providers, different topics; they get a feel for what they could emulate, reproduce and make right for them. There’s a huge amount of effort from the companies who put the MOOCs together, so you can learn from the content and the way things are delivered.

Even if the word ‘massive’ and ‘open’ strike fear into you, or your Security Managers’ heart – enrol on them and look at how they do things and take something away from that. If we do that as an industry the massive and the open part will worry less and the terminology will be less of an issue and we’ll just focus on good online learning. They’ll have a different impact in workplace learning as we’ll approach them differently.

About Craig Taylor

Craig Taylor is a Solutions Architect at, the R&D Company for Learning and Development. He also facilitates a number of free online courses for L&D professionals delivered via the award-winning Curatr social learning platform. Craig can be contacted on and on Twitter @CraigTaylor74


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