Retaining learners on MOOCs – Part 3: Content, assignments, and accreditation

In the last posts on the topic of retention, we spoke about the reality of having too little time to spend on the course, and the importance of feeling part of a learning community. In this post, we look at what people have said through the discussions and email outreach, on the importance of creating engaging material, useful assessments and meaningful accreditation.

Content is king

@srjf  believes that ‘if the content is exceptional in terms of relevant, interesting, novel, trailblazing etc, this should enhance the retention’ and also adds that it is helpful for content to be marked as ‘mandatory, optional or additional to give the learner an indication of what they have to “read”, may “read” or could read if super-interested’. A number of people on the ‘making Moocs on a budget’ course commented on the relevance and usefulness of the materials presented. The combination of videos with quizzes were received well. I wonder if anyone has noticed that we have actually taken some of the suggestions we got from participants, and developed (so far) two comic strips on the last two newsletters aimed at getting people to think about organizing their time [][1] and  [][2]. @chrisjangelov’s suggestion to ‘lighten up’ material reminded us of using the great (and free version available!) Pixton tool to present information in a lighter/more entertaining way, that hopefully gets the message across just as well.

 Making courses accessible

This issue of making courses accessible to all is one we had in mind when we introduced subtitles to the videos – keeping in mind that we had participants on the course from 47 countries – not all of them native English speakers, we felt this was a help, and some participants commented on this.

Speaking to Gerry Hegarty, at the IT Sligo about the need to make courses accessible to all types of learners, he shared with us the principles for universal design, which is something people might like to refer to when designing their own MOOCs.

“A universal design approach to teaching and learning holds the promise of creating more inclusive learning environments for all students of differing abilities including those with disabilities”. (Ref. The Centre for Universal Design (CUD)) The seven principles of universal design can be found here.


Related to the issue of accessibility, one contributor added that short, frequent quizzes can work with a variety of learner profiles, including those with learning disabilities, also saying that the key is a short feedback loop, particularly when there is a feeling of distance.

@John_Lawrence made a point about using assignments which relate to learners’ real life – if the course is viewed as a real aid to doing what we have to do anyway, it may be considered higher priority, than learning something that is far-removed from our lives, i.e. the assignment must be authentic and help us to achieve our real-world goals.  Is there something that can be done to ensure this is the case? Initial/ongoing surveys? Encouraging people to find learners with common challenges and shared goals who can collaborate in virtual teams to achieve more together?


@Afisch mentions something that many others have flagged over the past weeks – the importance of getting a ‘reward’ that means something – it’s great to get a badge that can be shared on facebook or linkedin, but does this really matter to your learners, or to their current or future employer? Another contributor said,’ the course must accord with the educational standards’, and @CathyPayne says that apart from personal determination, the biggest motivator to complete any training course may be the recognition by management of the value of the content to person’s role and my ongoing professional development – will it be recognised by the learner’s employer? How can accreditation of MOOCs be made more meaningful? (the comic in last week’s newsletter was intended to trigger some thoughts on this). Is a big brand certificate equally useful to everyone?  For working professionals, is there a need to involve employers to make sure the materials presented are in line with what they require their employees to know, or establish partnerships with relevant professional associations to seek accreditation that will count for something?

Thanks to the named contributors above and others who requested not to be named.

This post is one of a series of three posts on the topic of learner retention. The other posts can be found here:
Part 1: Making time for MOOCs
Part 2: Community

Your thoughts welcome in comments section below, or on the MOOC at this link, or you could also join a conversation on our linkedin group

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