Section 5: Recruitment and retention of learners


This section outlines a number of low-cost approaches to promoting your MOOC to people who may be interested in signing up and proposes a number of approaches to designing your MOOC in a way which will keep your learners engaged.
The section is accompanied by a tool which can be downloaded at:[1] Tab 1 of the tool may be downloaded and filled in as you work through the three steps below of defining your target group, developing messages, and identifying promotion channels. Tab 2 of the file aims to help you to prepare a work plan to implement the strategy and can be filled in at the end of the recruitment sub-section.

Planning your promotion campaign

Step 1: Define your target group
It’s important to have a clear idea of  who you are promoting your MOOC to, so the first step is to identify the group(s) you want to connect with. Think about who your course is aimed at: What groups of people need the information & resources you will present in your course? Who would be interested in knowing more about your topic(s)?
(It may be useful to fill in the template on the accompanying tool before proceeding to step 2)

Step 2: Develop messages that will resonate with your target group
What can you say to each group identified in step 1 to make them understand how your course will benefit them? How can you explain to them how your course will help them to achieve their personal and/or professional goals? How will your course help them to solve problems they may be struggling with? There are many courses on the internet – what can you say that will make your course stand out? This is your message.
(It may be useful to fill in the template on the accompanying tool before proceeding to step 3)

Step 3: Identify the channels that will allow you to connect with your target group(s) to communicate your messages to
How can you connect the people with a specific interest in one or more aspects of your MOOC so that you can communicate your message to them? Do you need to connect with members of specific professional groups/ members of specific organizations, and if so, do you have the possibility to connect with these? Who do you have access to – through your own personal network/ your professional network/, local and national networks, your social media networks and so on.
Pushing out your messages and promotion materials on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any other channels available will get the numbers up with a relatively low effort. Do you have a Facebook page, Twitter account, LinkedIn account or other social media accounts? Who are the key influencers for your target group(s), and how can you connect with them to promote your course?

Another thing you can do is to promote your course through a MOOC aggregator – these are basically search engines for free online courses. Each aggregator has its own application process to get your course added to their list, but it may be worth the effort as it allows you to reach large numbers of people who are interested in MOOCs. You can look into these ones:;;;;;;

Creating materials to promote your MOOC

Regardless whether your promotion strategy involves personal outreach or social media, it will help if you have some promotion materials that you can share. Here below are a number of suggestions:

  • Video promotion clip: following the guidelines in section 2 above, you may consider making a simple video that clearly communicates your message(s) as identified in the exercise above, to your intended audience. As an example, you may view the short promo video developed for Making MOOCs on a budget at [2]
  • Animated promotion clip: You can use free tools to develop animated clips to promote your course. Learning how to use these tools requires some time, but most are quite easy and intuitive, and provide a low-cost option for promoting your course in an entertaining way. As an example, you may view the animated clip developed for the Making MOOCs on a budget MOOC  at [3]. We developed this with the free version of powtoon
  • Blogs are another low-cost way of promoting your MOOC, and allow you to tell the story of your course. Learning how to set up a blog requires a little time, but most are very intuitive and require little effort.  Blogs allow you to post updates about your course which are easily shareable just by sending out the relevant link. As an example, you may view the blog created for the Making MOOCs on a Budget MOOC, which was developed using (free version) at [4]

(You may now finish filling in the template on the accompanying tool)

Once you have filled in your template in tab 1, you can make a plan to reach out to the groups you have identified. You can use tab 2 on the tool accompanying this chapter at [5]to make this plan.

Retaining learners

Retaining learners on MOOCs is a big challenge. Figures for MOOC completion are notoriously low – some sources put them as low as 5% of total signups, so it might be worth considering some actions to help you to beat these odds of losing most of your learners on your own online course.
It may be worth remembering that  if you do your promotion strategically, as described above, you should have quite a few people who sign up to your course because they have a genuine interest in your topic, and believe your course will contribute to their personal / professional goals.  In this case you could realistically expect to retain many of them. You could describe these learners as being intrinsically motivated – basically as long as your course is reasonably good, chances are they will stick with it, because they are interested, and they want to do it.
But the reality is that you will have many learners who sign up to your course who aren’t as committed, and maybe they drop out along the way – not necessarily because your course is bad – but because it is lower priority than many competing demands on their time and attention.
But how can you incentivize your learners to stay on the course, and are there any features you might incorporate to your course design to keep your learners interested?

Incentivizing your learners

Here below are a number of things to consider as a way of incentivizing your learners  if you’re in an education setting with a closed group of students:

  • Explore the possibility of adding ‘bonus points’ for completing the MOOC to your students’ end-of-year grade.  
  • Offer a certificate of completion, or a digital badge of completion that can be shared on social media accounts, or to your students’ e-portfolio if these are used in your institution.
  • Make your course mandatory (or maybe a compulsory step in order to access something else).
  • If your MOOC is aimed at professional learners, there may be other actions you could consider to incentivize your learners:
  • Consider approaching the relevant professional bodies to get your course recommended, so that learners can gain credits for completing your MOOC
  • If you are charging for certification of your course, as some courses do, could you offer free certification for the 2nd/3rd course for everyone who completes the first? (and by that stage, you might expect them to be confident and resilient digital learners who will want to continue to learn through this medium).

Designing courses for greater retention

Most researchers agree that online learners today want the flexibility and convenience offered by online courses, but they also want authentic courses with meaningful learning experiences, and that also allow them to share their experiences and learn from their co-learners.
How can you ensure your MOOC meets the flexibility and convenience needs of your learners? Can you consider allowing your MOOC to be always open, to accommodate busy learners? Can you run several moderated MOOCs per year to accommodate learners’ schedules? What else can you do?
How will you make sure your course is considered authentic and responds to people’s’ real learning needs? Can you design your course as a project – in such a way that it will help learners to have a completed project by the end of the MOOC?
Can you design your course (following the guidelines in section 1) in such a way that it will guide your learners to a project of their own by the end of the MOOC?
Can you include exercises and assignments that will contribute to the completion of learners’ own projects?
The research also shows that learners on MOOCs want to feel part of a group that shares their interest – and if this is missing, they get bored.

So, elements you might consider to incorporate to the design of your course to increase this social element, might include:

  • Lightly-moderated discussion forums which allow learners to connect with each other;
  • Newsletters or update bulletins which ‘tell the story’ of what’s happening in your MOOC, maybe even ‘featuring’ a selection of learners so that your learners get a greater sense that they are part of a group, not just consuming information from their computer screen. There are several online services that allow you to easily create newsletters that you can send to learners on your MOOC or to a wider audience as a recruitment tool. As an example you may view one of the newsletters created for Making MOOCs on a budget at: [6]. For this newsletter, we used the free version of mailchimp
  • Setting up groups on Facebook, LinkedIn or on other platforms may allow your learners feel they have more choices to connect with and get to know co-learners on platforms of their choice. Slack is another platform that has been used by MOOC developers to add a social element to learning. One of the advantages of using platforms which are independent of your MOOC for discussions is that the community can stay connected beyond the course. This may be particularly useful if you plan on doing more than 1 delivery of your MOOC as it will allow the community to build up over time.