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MOOCs with a Purpose: If You Build It, Will They Come?


• Sarah Bishop-Root

America’s classrooms consist of a patchwork of students who do not learn in a uniform way. Despite these differing learning styles, our country’s industrial-age school systems continue to promote a uniform education model that ignores the individual needs of each student. ExcelinEd supports education initiatives that break out of this archaic paradigm to embrace education choice and learning that is digital, personalized and/or competency-based.

Technology can serve as a catalyst to transform how we address the needs of every student, from K-12 to the life-long learner. That is what always intrigued me about open online education. Open education can empower the learner to stitch together their own threads of knowledge beyond the traditional model of learning.

EdPolicy LogoAs we began the process for designing EdPolicy Leaders Online (ExcelinEd’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for policymakers and their staff), I had a deep understanding of the power of an open course. However, I also knew that online learning is not a magic bullet. Online learning requires the same intention that a classroom experience demands: understanding the learners’ needs and identifying what is required to motivate and retain them throughout the learning process.

As learning theorists John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Maria Montessori demonstrate in their theory of constructivism, a learning environment should not be fabricated like an RV. Instead it should be built as a beautiful customized home, facilitating the learner to direct his or her own learning experience.

We knew that for our courses to be successful, we had to first understand the needs of our learners in order to select the appropriate learning platform, design the courses and develop internal motivation tactics that aligned with how our participants want to learn. Therefore, the first step in developing our strategy for EdPolicy Leaders Online was to survey policymakers and their staff. This survey allowed us to gain feedback on the important questions that would help shape the strategy for our course offerings. We asked the following:

  • What education topics do you anticipate you will find the most interesting over the next 12 months?
  • How much time would you be willing to commit per week to a free online professional development course on state education policy topics?
  • Who is an education expert that you wish you could engage with to help you with your education policy work (e.g. education chiefs in other states, education researchers, national experts and nation reform groups)?
  • Which is the best month range for you to participate in an online course?
  • What features of an online course do you find most engaging?
  • What would motivate you to complete an online course?

The responses from the survey directed us to design self-paced courses that were available throughout the year. This model allows policymakers and their staff flexible access to course content, thus easily working around session and busy schedules.

The survey also indicated that we should design the courses so that each module could be accessed when content may be most relevant to the course participant, instead of requiring them to move through the course in a specific order.

The feedback from the survey was also critical in selecting our online learning platform (Canvas Network) and the type of content we offered in the course, such as a combination of written content, graphics and video.

The survey also helped us understand that each module should require no more than 1-2 hours of time to mitigate the risk of losing people with busy schedules. We also gained insight into motivational factors to encourage participants to complete their course. This led us to offer both digital certificates that integrate with LinkedIn through our partner Accredible and mailed certificates of completion signed by members of our board.

Simply put, merely building an online course does not generate participation and completion. Instead, it takes listening to the needs of learners and using that insight to guide course design that will open the door to better learning outcomes and program success.

To begin your own learning experience, sign up for EdPolicy Leaders Online today. 


Click the links below to read more EdFly blog posts about EdPolicy Leaders Online.


About the author


Sarah Bishop-Root

SarahB@ExcelinEd.org

Sarah Bishop-Root serves as the MOOC Program Director (EdPolicy Leaders Online) at the Foundation for Excellence in Education Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Sarah Bishop-Root spent four years at Blackboard, focusing on educational technology adoption and emerging trends in education. As Senior Manager of Client Engagement for Blackboard, she developed and executed a MOOC and Open Education strategy. In this role she worked closely with institution decision makers and educators globally and contributed to the development and launch of Blackboard’s MOOC platform.