When MOOCs Meet Design

Commuting to work one morning I started wondering what lies at the bottom of my love/hate relationship with MOOCs. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe they are this inspiring new kids on the block, or even Davids to the-educational-system-of-today Goliath if you wish. A breath of fresh air. A Robespierre of sorts even. Respect and kudos for that. It’s about time. But every dive I do into a course, squirting with excitement and tingling with the jolly jitters of a 6 year-old going to school for the first time, I get this lump in my throat. And it’s nothing to do with upcoming testing or anything. Something just picky ticks me off, suffocating my excitement to a point I start attending only because I invested that much time so far anyway and it would be a shame to quit now. I know it might seem grim to you, but you see as biased as I am as a designer, you must admit that something is rotten in the state of Denmark. And it’s in the room. The room for improvement.


Let’s talk design for a second. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “the way something has been made; the way the parts of something (such as a building, machine, book, etc.) are formed and arranged for a particular use, effect, etc.”. When you think of it, everything around us is design. Heck, if God should be given a title, I’d root for a designer. I’d say design is so important for the perception and understanding of a notion or an idea that overlooking it is a felony.

For several years now we have witnessed the blossoming of MOOCs and connectivism. It’s a wonderful idea and it is a step further into globalization, equality, empowering technology and the learning revolution. Still you have to agree they are quite raw in their nature and development. Most of them go so far as filming a subject matter expert while lecturing. They rely exclusively on content. The tads of interactivity and design found throughout the courses are very basic and most of the time superficial. Lots of room for improvement.

“Create an environment where people are restless until their need for information is satisfied.” – Seth Godin

On both theoretical and technical sides, design at the very least will save us from boredom. I believe that to fully communicate an idea you have to give it shape and form. Curiosity and art go hand in hand and the sooner good graphic design becomes an integrated part of learning environments the better. As much as I hate to bring clichés to the table, you know what a picture’s worth. Right next to graphic design we could use huge improvements in multimedia design. The simple lack of quality in sound and picture in most cases is frankly disturbing. Then there is UI&UX design. Making everything simple and intuitive is a no brainer, but getting there takes some good bit of skill. Lots of room for improvement.

I recently stumbled upon an interesting experiment that Richard Wiseman performed with the RSA to analyze the impact of visual memory and attention stimuli. It turned out that only by animating a talk instead of showing the actual video of the person talking upped the understanding and retention by 22% – a humungous number for such a moderate change.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the learner’s ever-elusive attention and holding that attention. And I do believe visual and audio enhancement and more of interactivity and creativity can work wonders for any lecture or class. I can’t wait for the day MOOCs meet design.

What are your thoughts? Where would you like MOOCs to go?

Categories: eLearning


  • Srujan says:

    Yes, nice one!

  • First BEWARE there are good MOOCs there are bad MOOCs .
    1.- EDX MIT Harvard is a good MOOC.
    2.- They are non profit they do not need to cheat you
    3.- Eventually they will ask a small fee as they say today .
    4.- But they should provide degrees asap
    5.- They can include some more second tier but still good universities to the club too . Uni of Penn, Duke, Uni of Michigan , Uni of Illinois .
    6.- They should increase number of courses fast
    7.- They should start chareging only $ 10 to avoid unnecessary registration of 100,000 or so . Only 10,000 is good enough.
    If enrollment is only 1,000 per course per semester then charge $ 100

  • Chris C says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I have worked in schools and nonprofits alike, and the caliber of the educator is the difference between success and failure of knowledge retention and attention to begin with. Many MOOC’s fall flat on their face; as professors are rarely held to high standards of communication, just high standards of research.

Leave a Reply


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: