Getting to Grips with MOOCs

Donald H Taylor’s recently updated blog on MOOCs inspired me to write about what we’re doing with MOOCs in the Diplomatic Academy.  Basically we’re hoping to support online learners by making MOOCs part of blended programmes, rather than letting them sit there as self-study options.  It’s very early days.  It would be great to hear examples from other organisations which are further down this road.

I think Donald puts his finger on two really important points:

  • MOOCs have dropped out of the L&D headlines: they are no longer a “shiny new thing” and therefore no longer eligible for clickbait headlines, intriguingly-titled conference workshops and all the other marketing subsidies available to this year’s fad
  • But they are starting to have a major impact on formal learning: with big implications for corporate L&D functions, as well as for further and higher education.

He points out there are more than 4,000 MOOCs out there and over 35 million learners.  Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other UK government staff are amongst them.  There is a job in helping learners to pick out the best and most relevant MOOCs.  There is also, I believe, a job in supporting learners with the social infrastructure and learning skills which will help them to get the most out of those MOOCs.

A good library doesn’t just catalogue the books on the shelf, open the doors and sit back.  A good library runs reading groups, book clubs, introductory sessions, talks and workshops.  It provides help and guidance.  It puts out stands with Top Recommendations and This Month’s Featured Novel.  It probably has a café and space for community groups to meet.  It may host literacy groups and English language classes.

This is “Curation Plus”.  A really good article by Associate Professor Sandra Milligan of the University of Melbourne explains how MOOC users seem to fall into five types of learner, based on their online behaviour, and that active engagement – especially when it involves collaborative learning and reciprocal teaching – leads to better grade outcomes.

Overall we’d like to help our learners to get to these levels of active engagement, not to be passive consumers of MOOCs – which probably leads to dropping out and not being consumers of MOOCs at all.

Anyway I’d put the Diplomatic Academy’s approach to MOOCs into four categories:

  • Encouraging General Awareness. We’ve made a small start on this.  Sometimes we spot interesting MOOCs and flag them up in internal comms, or to our “Faculties” in case they could form part of our curriculum.  Our Ambassador to the UN wrote publicly about using MOOCs to help him prepare for his posting.  Our colleagues at Civil Service Learning helped to create a Future Learn MOOC on commercial contracting with the University of Southampton, which many civil servants have benefited from, including our staff.  The UK government has also sponsored an Open University MOOC on cyber-security.


  • Setting Up MOOC Groups (External). There’s no point investing effort in pointing our staff towards external MOOCs if we don’t tackle the known problem of drop-out rates.  The super-motivated will complete any learning they find useful, and frankly we don’t have to worry much about them – but we do have to think about the rest of us in the 99% of the population that needs some extra motivation – especially when busy, tired, stressed, forgetful or disheartened.  Elsewhere we’ve used a “learning group” methodology extensively for our Foundation Level learning, with some excellent but patchy results, and we have experience at supporting cohorts through longer blended programmes.  So we’re looking at taking this approach with MOOCs – probably starting with a pilot group interested in gaining CMI management/leadership qualifications via Future Learn.


  • Setting Up MOOC Groups (Internal). We’re starting to pilot six “badged online courses” which we’ve created with the Open University.  Without any extra support, these would probably feel like a standard MOOC, with the same risk of high dropout rates.  We’re just getting to the end of a first pilot where a group of 15 people have worked through an internal online course on the international aspects of devolution over six weeks, including: an introductory session; a workshop after two weeks with a speaker from one of the Devolved Administrations; a workshop after five weeks with live video links to two Embassies in Europe; a Yammer group for sharing feedback, thoughts etc (good for checking if other people are getting the same IT glitches); and a concluding wash-up event.  This first group has been mostly London-based, so face-to-face meetings have been possible, but we have also had colleagues on the phone or video.  The next two pilots will be in Asia and the Americas.


  • Creating an Actual MOOC. We are in the early stages of creating a MOOC with Open University and Future Learn on diplomacy.  This may offer opportunities for our staff to be “teachers” as well as “learners” (and therefore both, of course).

I’d love to hear more from people about using MOOCs in organisations.  Thanks Donald for the blog (and thanks Helen van Ameyde for flagging it up).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: