Section 1: The nature of your MOOC


You’re about to create your MOOC, but where do you begin?
A good starting point may be to become familiar with learning objects that are generally used in MOOCs, particularly in relation to their purpose in your course, and how they relate to low-cost production in terms of the time and money  you may have to spend to create them.
In this section, we will begin by taking a look at some of the options for creating learning materials – often referred to as ‘learning content’, and then move on to considering the objectives and structure of your MOOC

Learning objects

Passive Document:

These are documents with text and images, that may be prepared e.g. in Word or pdf. format. Passive documents are considered by many to be not very engaging, and while you might think they are quick and easy to develop, they can actually be quite time-consuming to produce – even more time consuming that videos sometimes. There are, however, a lot of free documents on the web, so it may be possible to find something that can be re-used rather than starting to create these documents yourself.


Videos are very popular in MOOCs. Though there’s some debate about whether they’re effective or not, it would appear that people generally rate videos highly as, unlike passive documents, they can be very engaging. Developing engaging videos may depend to a certain extent on the skills of the presenter – which is dealt with in section 3 below.
There are a number of types of videos to consider:

Screen capture:

This is basically a video of what’s happening on the screen of your computer or device. Screen capture videos could include: recording slides from a powerpoint presentation; ‘capturing’ a demonstration of some software on your computer; or showing what you’re writing or drawing on a whiteboard screen or slides – and of course it would capture the audio also. In screen capture, you may also consider adding a headshot if you wish.

Video recording:

Regular videos can be shot on a fairly cheap camera, or even on a mobile phone to  record experiments in a lab; discussions between people; an interview with someone; case studies or procedures etc.. These are relatively cheap and easy to create and we outline some tips and tricks in section 3 of this document.


These are live online presentations where you present to a camera on your computer, and  broadcast live on the web. Webinars are very inexpensive to do and unlike pure recordings,  they allow for  some interactivity with the live audience through a chat area. You can record the webinar so that it’s available later for anyone who was not able  make it to the  live presentation. This then begs the question whether recordings of webinars can be used as learning content? Could we use a webinar for video production? A disadvantage is that webinars generally tend to be a little long for what’s considered the optimal length for MOOC videos, but there’s no doubt that people present much better to a live audience than they do to just their computer, so the video may well be engaging. Another advantage of using webinars for content is that from a low-cost perspective, while you should prepare for a webinar,  there is greater toleration of mistakes, and there’s very little temptation to edit it afterwards. So overall, webinars reduce your workload, are inexpensive, and can be  quite a suitable format – with perhaps the only disadvantage being  the length of the recording.


Simulations involve replicating reality on a computing device – whether this is a PC or a mobile phone – allowing people to explore systems that may be at varied levels of realism.
A simulation can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet that allows people to change numbers on the spreadsheet and see what happens when they’re exploring; or there could be some very complex 3D system where you might put on a headset. The more sophisticated the simulations, the more expensive they tend to be to develop, and development can also be very time consuming – also, you need specialized skills for sophisticated simulations. However,  there may be some free simulators on the web – so they may be worth considering if you can find free ones.

Free web resources:

There are  a lot of free resources on the internet: Youtube videos, articles from online magazines, print-based magazines that have an online version, formal research papers, guides and instructions on how to do things,  eBooks – complete online texts on a topic, and others. It might even be worth considering looking for a free eBook and building your course around it, making it the recommended text book for your course. You could even consider writing an eBook to go along with your MOOC – though writing an eBook may even be a  bigger challenge than the low-cost approach to producing MOOCs that we’re recommending. As mentioned above, there are free simulations on the web, and even software that may be of use  for doing tasks on the web.

It is important to note that before using these resources, it is necessary to consider the issue of intellectual property. Many people believe that if a resource is available for public viewing on the web, then it’s ok to point your learners towards it as long as you don’t claim that it’s your material. The topic of copyright is dealt with in more detail in section 3 below and is worth understanding to avoid complications later on.

Interactive multi-media:

Interactive multi-media is, to a certain extent, like video, but it has a degree of learner interaction built in. This can include simple quiz questions in the middle of a presentation, or it could be more sophisticated, where the learning path varies as well. Nowadays these are generally developed with rapid development tools – software that can insert quizzes into e.g. a powerpoint presentation. Even using rapid development tools, however,  it still takes quite a lot of time to develop the materials, and they can be a little dull, with many learners complaining that it’s just a lot of clicking and interacting with the computer that’s not very interesting.They are probably better than a straight video, but because it takes so much effort to develop them, you wonder if you’re really getting value for your effort…and in terms of a low-cost or a low-production effort of MOOCs, they may be considered not to have the payback you need.

Discussion forums:

If you wish to teach topics that involve a certain amount of debate, or you want people to get a deeper understanding of a topic, discussions can be embedded using what is known as a connectivist MOOC/cMOOC) approach (discursive type courses). There are two types of discussions that you can put in a course:

Synchronous discussions- where everybody is online live at the same time

Asynchonous discussions- where people contribute to discussions and can come back later to read other people’s comments and continue the discussion.

Synchronous/live discussions:

Synchronous/live discussions can be done through PC-based video conferencing using Skype groups or Google hangouts, and can be done for free. They can also take place over the chat system where it’s just text systems and people are chatting live and typing their comments. There are  obviously issues around how big a group you can deal with in a live discussion, and how to organize those groups – this is quite a challenge.

Asynchronous discussions:

These are usually done on discussion boards or discussion fora. There is no issue with the availability of people, because anyone can come on whenever they want and respond to whatever is on the discussion board. Many consider these to be very effective educationally as people have the opportunity to consider their responses to questions and to reflect on other peoples’ comments on the discussion board. Asynchronous discussions are certainly low cost to set up, although you may say that there are some costs involved in the effort required to monitor the discussions. You can host them internally on most platforms but you may choose to host them externally on facebook or some other system too. The question with discussion forums, is how can you get the learners actively involved in the forums, and that is quite a challenge.


There are a number of assessment objects you might consider.
Autograded objective tests  are generally known as multiple choice quizzes (MCQs), though you can have other types of answers other than multiple choice. These are  more correctly called ‘objective tests’, as the computer does the grading, so there is no human subjectivity in the grading of the test. Autograded objective tests are certainly scalable as the computer grades them for you, and they’re relatively easy to set up – trivial questions can be quickly done …and it’s cheap. A challenge is to think of sophisticated questions that really drill down into learners’  understanding of the topic. Also, there are questions over their reliability and validity – are they testing the real learning outcomes of your course? and are they testing the right things? One thing that could be considered is to use quizzes for motivation – if you use them on a fairly shallow basis where they just test some recall, it’s a way of checking out whether people have really watched the videos or read the materials that you’ve supplied.


Essays are a more sophisticated assessment technique, and very suitable for assessing a deeper understanding – and particularly where there is no right answer, or where there’s debate or some applicability in different contexts. They’re relatively cheap to set up, but how are you going to assess these at scale? Are they really suitable for MOOCs? There has been some talk about robot grading or automated grading of essays – but that’s not available yet and certainly not available in a low-cost context. However, peer assessment may provide a solution to this. Peer assessment is where students assess, assess each other’s’ work, and you can use this for essays and other types of written work – or even for objects that are created e.g. if somebody has created a video they can submit it and it can be assessed by their peers. It’s certainly low cost to set up, and low cost to operate because the learners themselves assess and grade each other – but is it reliable? Is it accurate? Research has shown that it is quite accurate, though if you’re working on a large scale, chances are somebody will get several very poor evaluations, or poorly-done evaluations, in which case you might consider having an appeal system for these instances. It should also be remembered that peer assessment is an extra learning opportunity because people get to see other learners’ work.

Defining your learning outcomes

Now that you know the options available, it may be very tempting to get straight into developing content. Without proper planning however, you run the risk of ending up with a collection of videos that don’t necessarily deliver the skills/knowledge that your learners expect when they register on your MOOC. How can you avoid this happening?
We will now look at how to do some planning before hitting that record button. This topic is covered in Module 1 of the Making MOOCs on a Budget MOOC available here:

Writing learning objectives

Defining learning objectives at the beginning of your MOOC-development process will help you to work more efficiently – in line with a low-cost approach, where saving time means saving money.
Investing a bit of time in setting your learning objectives will give you a solid foundation for building your MOOC, so it really is worth your while to do this.To get started, we recommend watching a 10-minute video at [2] and then using the online tool “Learning Objectives Builder” from Arizona State University located at [3] to write learning objectives for your course.
Additional resources are available at [4] where you can find a number of videos under the theme “Course Design on a Shoestring budget”

Course design

Once you have a clear view of your learning objectives, it is time to consider how to align these objectives with your learning activities and assessments.
Our view is that the design will give structure to your course, and a robust course design will help you to manage your time effectively. However, it’s important to find the balance between spending huge amounts of time trying to achieve the perfect design, and just getting the MOOC done in time and on budget.
You can find an interesting short video on using storyboards to plan your course structure.

Once you are clear on your structure, the next thing is to define how you are going to know  if the students have attained the learning objectives you identified. What type of assessments will you include in your course?
When we talk about assessments, we  distinguish between formative and summative assessment: formative assessment has the aim of supporting your students to learn, while summative assessment aims to determine what the student has learned.
See here [5] a 6-minute video on types of assessment to consider, but keep in mind also that the low-cost, and massive character of your course means there are some limitations.

Grading assessments

Because of the massive number of participants involved, individual interaction between the teacher and the student is limited in MOOCs, so assignments must be either machine graded, or peer graded. Peer grading works very well for formative assessment, but it has its limitations in summative assessment, as not all students always take the grading seriously and students may be evaluated incorrectly, so this should be kept in  mind when developing your assessment.

Learning activities

Once you have decided on the assessment, you can then work on designing and creating the learning activities. These are the activities that will be evaluated in the assessment. Learning activities, in short, are activities that allow students to acquire news skills and concepts and practice applying them. You can obtain an overview of Meaningful Learning Activities in the 5-minute video:

Additional resources and examples

In their storyboarding demo on YouTube, Gilly Salmon and colleagues at Swinburne University of Technology demonstrate how they make a storyboard, using a flipchart with sticky notes.