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5 Things Instead of Video to Make your MOOC Extra Awesome

Designing MOOCs don’t require fancy videos to be engaging. OpenLearning’s Brooke Hahn gives five ways to improve student learning experiences.

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Brooke Hahn from social learning platform OpenLearning.

Many aspiring MOOC teachers become quickly overwhelmed or even deterred from teaching courses online by the prospect of creating videos for their course.

Do I need a production team? What resolution is best? Do I need a studio with a green screen? How much should I spend? Etc., etc…

As the Head of Instructional Design at online social MOOC platform OpenLearning, it may surprise you that I think videos are the least important aspect of your MOOC.

The best way for students to learn is by being active 

The best way for students to learn is by being active: when students are thinking critically and deeply, when they are relating new information to their existing world, and when they are actively sharing and contributing to their learning community.

Active learning facilitates deep and effective learning because it requires the use of higher order thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving. It places the student at the centre of the learning and empowers them in their learning discovery process.

little kitchen boy

Passively watching a video doesn’t achieve the same level of rich learning, because it does not require the student to do anything but sit, watch, and hopefully absorb information.

The great news is, designing active learning experiences for your MOOC is fun and won’t cost you a thing!

5 active learning experiences you can use in your MOOCS instead of videos

1. Connect the learning to the students’ world

How can you turn an abstract topic into something meaningful for your students? Consider how the topic relates to your students’ world and bring that into your MOOC.

Example: In UNSW’s Computing 1 course on OpenLearning, one of the aims is for students to understand the importance of writing clear, unambiguous computer programs (computers tend to be quite literal). One activity asked students to cook something from a recipe but to look for an ambiguously worded step and intentionally misinterpret it. One student, following instructions on cooking a frozen dinner, chose “remove sleeve and film” – and removed his shirt sleeve and took a video of it!

2. Get students to create something of their own

Set your students a creation challenge! Get them to create something related to the topic, that requires them to think critically, creatively and deeply. They can create and post a video or photo, a piece of writing, an audio recording etc.

Example: In our Introduction to graphic design on Canva course, students create unique designs in Canva, focusing on the design concepts taught during the module, and share them for all students to peruse and give feedback on.

3. Have students to share things that are around them

Deep learning happens when students connect new information with their existing world. You want students to be thinking about your topic outside of the course as well as in it! Give students opportunities to look for connections to course concepts that they observe in the world around them and share them with others in the course.

Example: In one of our maths courses, students are asked to snap and share pictures of maths concepts they discover in their world. They have an additional challenge of either a) sharing all of the maths ideas they can see conveyed in the image, or b) setting it as a challenge for other students to uncover the maths concepts.

4. Ask students to challenge each other!

Getting students to create challenges for each other are a fantastic teaching tool, as they facilitate interaction and peer-to-peer teaching, which is a powerful way to learn! Students first create and post a scenario or challenge related to the topic for other students to complete. Then they complete another student’s shared challenge. The student needs to consider the possibilities, outcomes and concepts first when creating the challenge for their peers, and then have a deeper perspective when they then complete someone else’s.

Example: In our Lean Six Sigma Introductory Fundamentals course, students are asked to 1) share an experience they’ve had waiting in a long queue and 2) create a scenario based on this real world experience, for other students in the course to calculate the exact lead time using a Lean Six Sigma formula. Students then complete each other’s challenges, fostering peer-to-peer teaching and interaction.

5. Encourage students to reflect on their learning

Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning. What did they take away from the learning experience? What was unexpected? What do they want to learn more about? Reflection is a double win–it not only makes the overall learning experience deeper for students, but it informs our practice as MOOC teachers.

Example: In my course, How to teach an awesome course on OpenLearning, I have students do both a written and a visual reflection. In the written reflection, they share what they took away from the course; in the visual reflection, they upload an image (with text) that reflects something they’ve learnt about teaching and learning. This is a fantastic opportunity for creativity and higher order thinking!

Teen boy socialising on laptop outdoors.

Your students’ needs are the most important consideration when designing a great MOOC. Start with the student perspective and consider how you can make the course meaningful, fun, and effective. Then you will enable an active, connected, and engaged learning community.

When these considerations form the basis of your MOOC, videos become a possible adjunct to your course, not the focus.


Brooke Hahn is the Head of Instructional Design at OpenLearning, an online social learning platform where anyone can teach or take a course for free. Brooke helps teachers design and set up engaging and effective online courses that are based around social learning communities. She teaches a free course ‘How to teach an awesome course on OpenLearning’.

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