A Lesson for all eLearning Practitioners

My blog team recently completed a Coursera MOOC (Massive open online course) on the concept and practice of Gamification.  If you haven’t yet been introduced to MOOCs, they are college level on-line courses offered for free from major universities. Coursera, specifically, offers numerous courses in a wide range of topics that are mostly free to the end user/student.  To give you some history on Coursera, it was founded by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, both computer science professors from Stanford.  Coursera works with universities to help promote the university’s top professors and introduce students to content that they may otherwise not have had access to.  Coursera has been funded by over 20 million in venture capital which has enabled the creation of very high quality online learning experiences for  millions globally.  Overall, Coursera provides a high-quality higher education distance learning experience.   The features of the Learning Management System (LMS) help create a user-friendly experience.  The course design is an outstanding example of best practice.  This combination of well designed courses within an elegant website system should do much to promote advancement in distance education using the Internet.

Coursera Site

Usually, online courses are delivered through a Learning Management System.  Coursera successfully created a user-friendly system that is clean and doesn’t bog the learner down.  They track course progress with easy-to-view progress bars and use a simple, clean design that is far superior to the typical LMS that often has user interfaces (too many buttons and/or features) that get in the way.  The site views as a stripped-down version of a typical higher education LMS and only allows the students the ability to see their courses, the course catalog, and their course records which holds the statement of accomplishments; Coursera doesn’t overwhelm the user with unneeded functionalities.  The Coursera site in general gets five stars from our team here at Web Courseworks.

The Lectures

Colleges and universities do not typically use such well-filmed/designed video as lecture.  Instead most colleges videotape an actual lecture. Coursera sets a high bar for recording the “lecture” portion of the class.  The lectures include an embedded, well-produced, close-up video of the professor (who is already “a star” in the field content) talking directly to the learner.  This method does well to capture the professor’s personality, and it furthers to generate the feeling of an improved face-to-face classroom experience.  These lectures are shot well, which is usually expensive to do.  Because of this, these courses are generally superior to most online classes for the production value alone.

The Content

The courses are well defined instructionally.  Parallels exist between classroom learning and the way that Coursera’s online courses are designed.  Check marks show for completion, material is exposed to the learner as weeks progress, and the syllabus is at the top of the menu for easy access to course expectations.  Furthermore the lectures are rich with examples and are graphically enjoyable.  The professor uses a pen to draw on the slides in order to emphasize certain points and theories.  This helps to create a real feeling of “being there.” Arrows and highlights on screen draw attention to areas that the learner should focus on.  Content is sufficiently organized in scaffold fashion to move the learner from basic introductory material to more advanced material, in due time.  If you want to learn more about how the content is produced, check out this video.

Learner Activities

Coursera has done a good job at including learner activities to promote content retention and retrieval.  Questions are embedded into the lecture so that the user has to stop and think about what content/information has been relayed.  The course utilizes discussion boards in which classmates can discuss particular aspects of the class.   Usually courses include quizzes, tests, and/or written assignments with peer evaluations.  The lecture/learning activity combo is well through out.   Ample opportunities are provided for the learner to apply the knowledge learned in the course.


Methods of Motivation

Part of Coursera’s success comes from the motivation behind self-directed learning.  In recent years, studies argue that self-directed learning gives students better ability to learn because they can control the flow of their experience.  A second method of user motivation is a passion behind furthering one’s knowledge, and furthermore, learners get substantial resume builders, as well as an elevated status once certification is attained.  The courses take genuine hard work so employers and traditional schools will recognize the value.

Coursera Success

Why is Coursera as successful as it is today after other attempts failed over the last decade?  Well, larger technical improvements like high bandwidth have allowed for easy access to the internet on most everyone’s home PCs, work PCs, or mobile devices.  Most importantly, the classes are instructionally designed and executed with high production values and delivered within a user friendly web site. This venture in distance education is a lesson for all of us who create eLearning! It is indeed “best practice.” With the rise in universities that are signing on, the inclusion of some courses that give actual credit, and with the already current 3.2 million users that have joined Coursera, there isn’t anywhere to go from here other than up.   Bravo to Coursera!.  Thank you for improving the quality level, building a new business model, and for ultimately kicking all distance education programs forward.

Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Jillian Bichanich.  Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.