So you are ready to design your own massive open online course (MOOC) and you want to incorporate social media. How should you go about it? What tools should you use? When the first MOOCs hit the net, the only real option was blogs. Then Coursera, Udacity, and edX popularized discussion boards, similar to what is used in non-MOOC elearning. Since then, social learning tools have exploded onto the market. At a minimum, most MOOCs today use discussion boards, blogs, and microblogs, and many have some kind of dedicated social network.

Training MOOCs are by nature different than academic MOOCs. One difference that affects the use of social media is the potential audience and the type of content. Organizations need to decide whether to make their MOOCs truly open and host them publicly on the Internet or whether to restrict part or all of the courses to authorized users. The deciding factor may be the amount of proprietary or competitive information included in the course content. For example, a business etiquette course may be hosted on the Internet, while a sales training course may be run on a private intranet. Different social media tools are available depending on whether or not the training will be made public

Another difference is the number of social media tools used in a given course. In some MOOCs (particularly connectivist MOOCs), learners are encouraged to connect with each other over as many platforms as possible. In a course with tens of thousands of students, this can lead to an overwhelming amount of information being posted, so most students pick and choose how they will engage with the content and one another. In a training MOOC, this model may or may not be appropriate. To prevent learners from spending all day surfing social media sites, instructors can limit the tools to a couple of platforms or divide learners into small groups for discussion and collaboration.

The following presents a review of the main types of social media and how they can be used in training MOOCs.

Discussion boards

Most MOOCs have forums where learners can ask and answer questions and informally discuss course materials, and most learning management systems (LMSs) include discussion board modules. If you are not using an LMS, there are plenty of options available.

  • ProBoards and ZetaBoards are free hosting services for publicly viewable forums.
  • Zoho Discussions and Fusetalk are collaboration software packages for businesses that include discussion forums and a range of other features.


Blogging is well suited for courses in which learners need to reflect on and respond to content, such as case studies. The main difference between blogging and discussion forums is that discussion forums are less structured, while blogs provide a more formal way for learners to articulate their ideas and receive feedback from others. Again, many LMSs have blogging modules but there are other options.

  • For public blogs, WordPress is the most popular and user friendly. Blogger is a Google tool that can easily be integrated with other Google apps.
  • You can create private blogging groups on sites like BuddyPress, but this may not be feasible for very large classes because authorized users must be added individually. For now, the best way to enable private blogging within a MOOC is to use an LMS.


The main purpose of microblogging in MOOCs is to provide opportunities for synchronous interaction, such as a once-a-week live conversation.

  • For public conversations, Twitter is the undisputed leader, with 500 million users as of March 2013. Nearly 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies already use Twitter, and having your employees Tweet can raise customer awareness and promote positive perceptions of your brand.
  • Yammer is the premier microblogging tool for private conversations. Organizations can set up social networks that are accessible only by employees with company email addresses.

Blogs and microblogs aren’t social unless other users can find and comment on others’ posts. To facilitate learner interaction, assign a hashtag (e.g., #BusEtMOOC) to be included in each post. You can then use an aggregator to collect posts on the course dashboard or create a daily or weekly digest of learner social media activity using a content curation application like, Storify, or Flipboard.

Facebook, aka social networking

Facebook is the prime place for people to connect, and studies have shown that college students (i.e., those entering the workforce) prefer using Facebook to discussion forums hosted within an LMS. Many MOOCs have Facebook pages set up either by the instructors or by groups of ambitious students. You can create a standard page that is publicly viewable or a closed page that requires permission to access. Other sites offering both public and private social networking include Google+ and

Other social media tools

There are myriad other social media tools, many of which I’ve mentioned before. Here are a few you may want to explore:

  • HipChat is a private group chat and instant messaging app, great for project teams.
  • For content sharing, Pinterest is hugely popular and already used by members of many professional communities. Bloomfire offers private content sharing for organizations.
  • To increase learner engagement, many MOOCs include synchronous events held on a weekly basis. GoToWebinar allows you to host live lectures and facilitated discussions for up to 1000 people.

When deciding which social media tools to use, start by determining the goals of the MOOC. Courses for which knowledge transfer is the main objective can probably get by with discussion boards for Q and A. Blogs are excellent options for courses that require individual reflection and problem-solving. Microblogging and live webinars provide great ways for learners to converse with subject matter experts. Finally, courses that involve higher levels of collaboration and group work can benefit most from social networking and live chat.

In the next article in this series, we will examine assessments in MOOCs with a focus on problem-solving.

Copyright  Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.