What lessons can be learned from MOOC platforms when designing an LMS?

MOOCs took the education world by storm. Since the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was launched in 2008, the number of courses and users hasn’t stopped multiplying, mostly due to the fact that they are free to enter.

As a graduate sales and marketing assistant in a digital learning organisation, I couldn’t help but explore the possibilities MOOCs offer to elearning.

In this blog, I don’t aim to list differences between a MOOC platform and a learning management system. Instead, I’d like to share five key MOOC platform elements I’ve identified as being transferrable to drive organisational performance and success in an internal learning management system.

1. The course product page (a.k.a. “the course shop-window”)

The very first thing the learner sees when accessing the learning platform. Just like a shop-window, it’s the first impression of the course and can encourage people to come into the shop – or not.

MOOCs are not compulsory. People taking the course have to get an emotional connection with what they see on that page before going any further. With a learning management system, the organisation not only wants the learner to engage with the content it has heavily invested in, but also to get them to return to the content and learn, really.

Course product pages I’ve accessed from courses on MOOC platforms such as Coursera or EdX introduce the learner to the content with a brief summary, the length of the course in terms of time before completing it, course ratings and reviews, and a presentation of the leading course instructor. Such a simple detail, but what a difference it can make on the first impression of the content!

Getting the course product page right is what makes learners want to access the course. At Saffron, we would call it the handshake with the learner: you want learners to shake your hand back, don’t you?

2. Recommending a rhythm instead of a forced schedule

One detail that caught my attention on some of the courses I went through was the opportunity for the learners to take the course at their own pace. Here again, that’s an interesting facet of MOOC platforms, and the user experience can only benefit from it. Self-paced learning is a formidable way of giving ownership to the learner over his/her knowledge, by giving more flexibility.

Professors offer a timetable to help you organise your learning and recommend the amount of hours you should work per week to get the best end results. However, whether you’re attending five courses a day or completing your programme over a longer period and perhaps only attending a course every two days is totally up to you. This personalised schedule helps – if learners feel they can only do a course your way, it’s easier for them to decide not to do it all.

So instead of “pushing” the content to the learners, the idea here is letting the learner “pull” the content whenever needed.

3. Focusing on the outcome, not on course ‘completion’

A pretty challenging statement, when we know that companies use their LMS to track the completion or the status of the course. That’s an aspect MOOC platforms address very well.

MOOC platforms try to move away from this so-called “tick-the-box” aspect which traditional elearning courses imply.

Here again, designing the platform in a way that invites the learner to access the content is of critical importance. Having had the chance to listen to a webinar delivered last July by Saffron and Coca-Cola Hellenic I realised how much pressure learners have when it comes to course completion. In numerous cases, they are told to do it, without being given any choice at all. The result is a learner that completes the course for the sake of completing it.

Now would they have learnt something? Chances are, they might not remember the content, and if they do, it might not be a pleasant recall.

An important take-away from MOOC platforms is that the fear factor should be removed to let the knowledge and behaviours the course intends to shape emerge freely. And these are the ones that should be tracked. Learning a skill or subject never stops, and so MOOCs encourage open exploration without a narrow focus on completion.

4. Discussions and forums are central to the experience, not an afterthought

Let’s face it: we are constantly in need of feedback. Digital communities created by social media and online forums can fulfil our need for feedback with a wide audience.  Why then is it not possible to make the most of this dimension with a learning platform?

Learners need to get feedback not only from their trainer, but also from other learners and peers, as they feel part of a wider community. In a MOOC platform, the “discussion” or “forum” comes in as a designed area for open discussion linked to topics but never far away from sight either. As a result, with a network, knowledge emerges between members of the course which is often the most valuable thing around it. The members add elements such as comments, videos, webinars, blogs or rating of the content, making this content evolve. By doing so, learners prove they tailored the content the way they feel it needs to be.

Our platforms product manager Toby Harris and our head of design and development Alastair Mclean recently delivered a webinar to urge companies to build platforms that invite to create a “networked” knowledge if they want to perform better.

5. Design is part of the experience too

This point may be obvious, but it’s always good to be reminded of its importance. The learner needs to engage with the content that’s made available to them. In the case of a MOOC, the learner is free to start a course, and to stop it whenever they feel like doing it (again, linking back to my first point: MOOC courses are not compulsory!). MOOC platforms have to be designed in a way that retains the learners. While I was going through MOOC platforms, I noticed that the design added to the success of the learner experience. The use of dashboards, for instance, gives an overview of different content aspects before accessing it. The interesting part of these dashboards is that they can be organised on one same page. The content is presented in a simple, flat way, not in different “layers” the learner has to go through before reaching the bit of content they’re after.

I was also impressed by the interactions and responsiveness of the platforms to each one of my clicks.  Making the learner want to click to see what’s coming next is a goal well-achieved by MOOC platforms, which, by doing so, put the learner as an actor, rather than a spectator.

Maybe your organisation LMS already includes some or all these features. Maybe not.

The underlying lesson is learning how to draw the attention to the learner and their experience during the elearning journey.

At Saffron, we’re passionate about building performance-driven learning platforms that put the learner at the heart of the elearning strategy. We’d love to show you how.

Get in touch if you’d like to get a demo of our platform Share!

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About the author

Marlene Cursoux - Sales and marketing assistant

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