February 25, 2017

Thoughts on the pedagogy of Coursera-style MOOCs

Knox, J. et al. (2012) MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera ALT Online Newsletter, August 8

This article, from the designers of one of the courses to appear in the Coursera catalogue, asks some interesting questions about the design of Coursera-style MOOCs. This is to be expected, as the course is entitled ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures‘, and will be offered as a MOOC through Coursera by some of the team responsible for University of Edinburgh’s current Masters in e-Learning.

The article offers:

our perspectives on the planning and development of a large scale open course, what challenges the MOOC presents for delivering a worthwhile educational experience, and what questions this type of course format provokes for a team already teaching and researching in the field of e-learning and technology in higher education.’

The article is well worth a read, and incidentally I had already registered to take this course which begins next January. I will post my reactions as I work through the course.

Knox, J. et al. (2012) MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera ALT Online Newsletter, August 8


  1. I am one of the 75000 who enrolled in Statistics One. However while the lecture videos are excellent, litle thought has gone into the preexisting knowledge of students, who had to teach themselves the programming language R before they could analyze the first assignment. Instead of showing students how to do this, the course expected students to google the solution or seek help from student forums. Dozens of student solutions were posted online to the programming challenges but most were made by experienced R programmers who had no idea of how incomprehensible their suggestions were to non programmers. While the technology of coursera may be powerful, without thoughtful analysis of student needs this unit is likely to convince tens of thousands of students that they are ‘ too dumb to do stats at university’, when in fact the fault lies in poor pedagogy and basic lack of thought in designing a course for a heterogenous group, studying alone remotely, with no prior programming training.

    • With due respect to Annie, I beg to differ. IMHO, Coursera is not intended as a replacement or alternative to Open University type programs that are targeted at participants with NO pre-requisite knowledge needed for taking a course. Coursera is more like a university level course where it is expected students have the pre-reqs needed or can manage to learn it side-by-side with the course. Atleast for courses I took, pre-reqs were posted on the site and it is upto the student to figure out if they can cope or not. The one drawback to Coursera is in a university profs will usually conduct a test on pre-reqs to make sure students have the background needed and in addition courses have a drop date usually after first mid-term. In Coursera, students should find out if they can manage it or not instead of feeling out of place later on.
      Specifically speaking, R tutorial material is widely available on the web and the students need to muster the effort to learn it else learn it first and then take this course. If its not obvious, Coursera courses are at an accelerated pace even though they are not as difficult as classroom ones so be forewarned!


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