So, you have decided to replace, or at least supplement, some of your instructor-led training (ILT) with a massive open online course (MOOC). Great! You are about to join the myriad companies that have seen their training programs blossom through the incorporation of this new form of technology-enabled learning.

Now what?

Moving from traditional ILT to a MOOC is not as simple as just putting your current learning resources online. In fact, studies have shown that this approach is the exact opposite of what you want to do. The best MOOCs are designed as MOOCs from the ground up, from a digital perspective and taking full advantage of the available technologies. This article outlines an overall approach for making the transition from ILT to a MOOC.

Plan, plan, and then plan some more

Teaching a MOOC is much different from leading an in-person training course, and what all of the differences point to is the need for more advance planning than you’ve probably ever done before. You will be developing the entire course in advance for an audience with whom you may or may not interact on a personal level. This means you won’t be able to see the confused looks on learners’ faces when something is unclear, or be able to change things up quickly when you observe them nodding off. You will also be recording video, which is more difficult (and more expensive) to reshoot when you make a mistake than it is to correct an error or verbal flub during a face-to-face lecture. The more you plan, revise, and practice prior to actually pressing “Record,” the better your course will be, and the fewer retakes will be necessary.

Redesign course materials with learners’ needs in mind

Today’s corporate learners are diverse group with diverse needs. They want training to be efficient, immediate, and relevant. They want to be able to access that learning on their own schedules and using their own devices. ILT is rarely designed with these needs in mind, but MOOCs need to be.

Moving from ILT to a MOOC does not mean just splitting lectures you already have into bite-sized pieces. In fact, research has shown that this is the least effective way to convert a traditional class into a MOOC. Instead, take your course materials and focus on creating short, standalone lessons. This will give learners ultimate flexibility in when and how they access the resources.

Another aspect of designing with learners’ needs in mind is thinking about navigation. In ILT you lead learners through the course materials in real time; in MOOCs you don’t have this opportunity, so you need to incorporate this guidance into the course itself. To help students work through the materials on their own, provide plenty of navigation signposts, along with a welcome page or orientation video explaining how everything will work.

Create active assessments, and plenty of them

One general feature of MOOCs is that they have more assessments than ILT or traditional elearning, and those assessments are more learner-centered. It is fairly standard, especially in corporate MOOCs, to have pre-knowledge assessments, individual video questions, module exams, and post-knowledge assessments. These assessments increase engagement and provide a way for learners to judge their progress long the way. MOOCs can also incorporate a variety of active assessments, from participating in course discussions to working on individual or collaborative projects.

Maria Andersen, who works at Canvas and teaches a MOOC through the Canvas Network, recommends that assessments in MOOCs should “benefit the students not the instructor,” which means that they should provide additional learning activities, not just serve as attendance markers, which is often the case in ILT.

The assessments in MOOCs can be machine-graded, peer-graded, instructor-graded, or even ungraded. The important thing is that they are meaningful. Many of the assessments you use already can likely be adapted to the MOOC format fairly easily.

Be prepared to play a different role

One of the most difficult parts of transitioning from ILT to MOOCs as an instructor is getting used to the different role you will play. In a course that is not moderated, your role may be limited to creating the course materials. In a moderated course, you may answer questions on discussion forums and clarify concepts as needed. In either case, you will need to step back—likely more than you are used to—and allow the learners to engage with the course on their own.

Learn from the data

MOOCs have the ability to produce huge amounts of data, including how long learners spend with the materials and how actively they participate. This is an opportunity many ILT implementations don’t afford. Analyzing and using the data generated by your MOOC can help you both make the MOOC better for next time and improve your ILT courses.

Don’t try to do it alone

Transitioning from ILT to a MOOC is a huge endeavor, and not one you should attempt alone. In many companies, an ILT course might be developed and delivered by just one person, start to finish. MOOCs don’t work this way. The MOOC development team usually includes several members of the L&D team, a technical support team, and often an outside consultant specializing in MOOC design and pedagogy.

Finally, what better way to learn about MOOCs and how to design and teach them effectively than by taking one yourself? Check out Coursera’s Learning to Teach Online for more strategies to help you make the move into a digital learning environment.

Copyright Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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