UX and MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have evidently shaken up the Higher Education world in the past couple of years. Even though I have heard about MOOCs (you must be living under a rock if you managed to avoid all the publicity about them!), it was only when I started preparing my lecture slides last week that got me into thinking about them. I wanted to introduce the concept to students, and discuss it with them- trying to find out if MOOCs would appeal to them and if not why?

As this is a fairly recent but massively populat phenomenon, there isn’t much published research out there. A recent systematic review of MOOCs by Lianagunawardenal et al., (available here) was the first one I found with quite interesting results.

The most interesting finding for me:

  • According to a collation of completion rates of 24 MOOCs, the highset completion rate achieved was 19.2% on Functional Programming Principles in Scale (Jordan, 2013)


Source: Katy Jordan on Moocs : http://www.katyjordan.com/MOOCproject.html

So, I have been wondering- Can user experience design help increase MOOC completion rates?

And in the MOOC context, how can the benefits of UX established?

– Interface Design : Does the interface of the MOOC effectively highlight deadlines for upcoming assignments to avoid handing in work late that could potential lead to dropping out of the course. Are there any other (perhaps motivational) interface considerations that could improve drop out and act as motivationa

Content Organisation and Structure: Is the MOOC course organised in a manner that allows for the user to intuitively explore it, without frustratingly search for things? Is the Help section designed in a manner that allows the user to easily find specific content? Do the same questions keep appearing in Help Forums? If we can reduce the time a user spends on trying to find information and being frustrated, we can enhance their learning experience and improved their satisfaction.

Course design: Are the prototype courses tested with users?  Do they follow an iterative user-centred design cycle? Do MOOC teams have UX skills, knowledge or the tools to optimse the UX of their courses and therefore improve completion rates?

Course structure: MOOCs are advertised as ‘free’ courses where the learner is in control and there are not rules to follow, no steps, you can just map out your own learning route. But this is fundamentally the opposite of a great user experience. Users need to feel in control and need to know what’s coming next. So another question that comes to mind is, how will the UX designers of MOOCs will address this?

Engagement: How can we design to engage? The biggest issue for me when it comes to MOOCs is engagement. Unless there is an exceptionally high intrinsic motivation to complete them- MOOCs come across to students as ‘boring’. When I asked my class today whether they would be tempted to do a MOOC, the universal answer was ‘No’, followed by ‘They are boring’ and ‘No interaction’. So

 I have had a quick look and found out that current MOOCs have all highlighted the important of UX, with Udacity highlighting the important of UX in their blog  (and by employing Google’s formed Head of UX).

I guess there are certain mottos that apply to all educational innovations (and apply quite well in the case of MOOCs)

‘Presence’ does not equal ‘engagement’.


 ‘Provision of access to content’ does not equal ‘user engagament’

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