Section 4: Planning your MOOC


This section aims to provide the reader with an overview of how to plan a MOOC. Whether you have decided to build a MOOC because you have a bright and clever idea, or a relevant and interesting subject , or because you have particular expertise that you want to share, you will need to make a plan for developing the course.

As we have already seen in this document, building a MOOC involves creating materials, text, presentations, gathering resources, re-using existing Open Educational Resources and so on – all of which require resources related to time, energy, and money – which are sometimes scarce. Costs may skyrocket if expensive equipment e.g., video cameras and post production infrastructure must be rented. The resources you need depends very much on the particular environment you are working in – perhaps your organization or university will be providing infrastructure, or even staff.  Regardless of your particular situation, it will help you to optimize resources if you get organized at the beginning.

In line with the aim of the “Making MOOCs on a budget” to identify low-cost approaches to all aspects of making a MOOC, the tool we propose for organizing a low-cost, high-quality MOOC is a simple spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet will allow  you to easily set up, your plan, and modify it as needed, as you go through the MOOC-development process. In such a file you have rows and columns. Rows may be used to list the learning objects you need for your course – from the first to the last – so for each learning object you need to create, you should create a row.
Using a spreadsheet allows you also to set out deadlines, tasks and workflow. Columns can be used for this – to answer the questions: what? who? how? why? and others.
Making the spreadsheet accessible to all team members allows for collaborative planning and ensures everyone is on the same page. Any spreadsheet application is fine, but we suggest to use one in the Cloud where there is enough privacy but which is accessible to all those involved. We use Google Spreadsheet, which allows for easy integration and collaborative work and has the advantage that it may be exported and imported to other applications like Microsoft Excel of LibreOffice. All in all, creating and sharing is easy – i.e., it is low-cost yet good enough.  

Spreadsheet content

As stated above, every spreadsheet row corresponds to a different item in a lesson or module. The properties of each row are the columns. Thus, the first column should be the tag for the resource. For module 1, one might tag “1.x” where “x” stand for the module, lesson part, particular item etc.. For module 3, it should read “3.x”, and so on. So for module 1 one might have 1st column to read 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and so on. For module 4, it would be 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, and so on. This is really a very simple idea, but sometimes simple ideas provide the best value.
Once the first column has identified items, the 2nd column might refer to the name of the item – an open education resource, video, podcast, PDF file, external OER, text file, URL, etc. The purpose of this simple identification technique is twofold: first, to help with planning; and second, so that course takers know well the items in the MOOC.
Column 3 can be the type of resource item: video, screencast, plan text, pdf file, etc. While the 2nd column clearly identifies the idea and content behind the item, column 3 defines the best way to deliver the content, i.e, the best way the resource be delivered to students – and the best way the students may learn from the content of the learning object.
The fourth column details the team members involved in collecting and producing this learning object. A MOOC may have a single person in charge, or various people in a single team, or several teams (which was the case of #moocs4all, where teams were located in different cities around Europe). This column should identify those taking care of the learning object, specifying if collaboration is required, allocating responsibility to the person/people in charge of editing, shooting videos, etc. Likewise, it may address any external help needed.
Column 5 is related to the location where the resource will be created, for instance if a video must be shot – in a classroom, at a desk, from someone’s computer, a plain tablet, etc.
‘When?’ is the question related to column 6 and related to deadlines. When should the learning object be created – when will it be needed? If this item reuses an existing resource, this information is unnecessary, but one must plan when everything must be finished. Thus, perhaps it is a good idea to gather items in chunks, not necessarily sequentially from the first to the last module. If one starts from the last module and knows quite well what is being done and why it is being done, then there should not be no special difficulties. Moreover, there may be different deadlines for different modules.In any case, hopefully everything will be ready far in advance of the course start. Unfortunately, sometimes it is not so easy to fulfill deadlines.

The most important question may be “why”, which is another column in the spreadsheet. In a low-cost approach to building a MOOC, with a scarcity of time and energy, superfluous or unimportant items might be skipped. And the “why” must justify that this is the best way for students to learn something.
Items do not only include (traditional) content, but should also include assessments, surveys, games, or any way to engage and motivate students. One must always bear in mind that it is fairly easy to register for a MOOC, but what it is really difficult is retention of registered students. Items must be incorporated in the planning stage to prevent dropouts and maximize retention.

Colour coding is a simple but effective way to add emphasis on the spreadsheet file. It is important to agree on a colour-coding system at the outset e.g. the traffic light system where green shows completed tasks, amber for tasks in progress, and red for urgent deadline tasks, or you may choose to group tasks with different colors and font characteristics.

Copying and sharing the spreadsheet

For the #moocs4all MOOC we used a spreadsheet to plan and build the course. A blank file is available at Google Docs so anyone may work on their own and start editing it. This #moocs4all team believes in the sharing society, so you find this file here: [1] For practical reasons, it is best to duplicate it under a new file name so you may build several copies or tune it up to your particular needs. Depending on the Cloud service, you might provide different access levels (e.g., read, comment, write, …) to the file.