UX thoughts about MOOCS

Studying user experience and engagement in Coursera

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Can UX Design Improve MOOC Completion Rates?

The following article was published in “MOOC: News and Reviews” October 10th 2013:


Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Commentary, Featured

Massive Open Online Courses are currently disrupting the higher education landscape. Still, MOOC completion rates are remarkably low (normally below 10%) compared to traditional online and offline courses as shown in this data visualization developed by Katy Jordan earlier this year.

MOOC Project by Katy Jordan

Even if most research in this area is just starting, researchers, professors and MOOCs providers have already ventured several reasons that could explain the exaggerated dropout rates:

  • Price as an entry-barrier: MOOCs are free, so, some people enroll just out of curiosity to check out new courses.
  • Scope of interest: Some students can be interested only in one specific topic or section. They enrolled to have access to the videolectures or discussion forums but have no intention to finish the course.
  • Extrinsic motivations: Since most students will not earn credits or “valid and trustworthy certificates” from MOOCs, they are probably less concerned about the requirements to pass the course and just focus on their learning interests.

While all of them seem valid hypotheses and should be further studied, research I am carrying out with my colleagues at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign is focusing on another factor that has seldom been considered: Continue reading


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Writing text messages for your MOOC? Do not expect students to read them


The way you write, structure and display the texts that will be part of your MOOC (mailings, announcements, activities…) will determine how easily or efficiently your students can process your instructions and gain knowledge.

It is not enough to prepare well-written, grammatically correct and error-free texts. If they are not optimized for the web, your message will not probably reach all your students, and it will negatively influence the overall usability of the course.

Let’s look at two weekly announcements or messages from two different Coursera MOOCs ( Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Gamification):

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What makes MOOC special? Massive communities and…


Last week, I was interviewed for an article about the ways in which student communities are encouraged or built in MOOCs and I had the opportunity to contribute with some reflections from a User Experience perspective. I would like to share some of these ideas about the emergence of strong communities around MOOCs and continue the debate in this post.

I believe that the feeling of being part of these massive learning communities plays an important role in the overall User Experience of MOOCs and it can have an impact in students motivation, persistence and learning.

It is undeniable there is something special about MOOCs, something that goes beyond previous learning experiences, but, could it be related with these massive online communities?

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Getting to know 100.000 classmates


Numerous researchers have pointed out that, in the context of Education, social interactions can have a meaningful impact in student motivation, persistency and learning outcomes.

In offline classrooms, just the fact of being in the same physical space facilitates personal interactions. If you don’t understand something you can just ask the person sitting next to you,  rise your hand and ask your question during the lecture or approach the instructor at the end of the session. You also have more opportunities to comment the materials and assignments with your classmates, learn from each other and find encouragement to keep up with the workload.

In online courses, in contrast, since you cannot see your classmates or talk to them in person, it is easier to feel disconnected, not supported or even alone. E-learning platforms have tried to solve this problem by creating online communication spaces and tools to support and encourage students interactions: discussion forums, chats, profiles, blogs,…

But, how can you get to know your classmates when there are more than 100.000 students enrolled in the same course?

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Usability guidelines for labeling MOOC videolectures


In order to design usable and efficient interfaces, hurdles of interacting with our system or contents should be minimized. And some of this burden is often caused by small details that could be easily solved once we are aware of them.

For example, indicating the videolecture length within the video title would allow students to easily assess the time they will need to watch the video, and decide if they want to start it or not, without having to open the video and wait until it is loaded to check the timer.

Looking at the screenshots of Videolecture pages from different courses, we can  identify some aspects that will improve the usability of this section:

Screenshot of the Videolectures page from 3 different courses Continue reading

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Is the navigation menu of your MOOC clear and efficient?


When visitors come to a website for the first time, they are only willing to invest a few seconds to find out what the website is offering about and whether they are interested or not in knowing more.

In MOOCs, the first impression students receive from a course would probably be as crucial, and a great part of this first impression will be based on the homepage and the navigation menu, which normally serves as an overview of the course.

The main menu structure will provide students with information about the conceptual mental model behind the course, the different parts or components and the course organization or structure.

Here are some examples of navigation menus from Coursera MOOCs, and some thoughts about them:

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The importance of overview and feedback in MOOCs


One of the most important principles in Usability and HCI is that the user interface should provide clear and adequate feedback to the user about what is going on within the system. Understanding where you are and what is happening, make us feel safe, oriented and in control. And it facilitates to make informed decisions and to take action.

Overview of workload and feedback on completion and performance rates are also key elements to support efficient and healthy work.  Being able to easily overview what has to be done and assess how much effort it could require from us, give us the possibility to adjust work pace and task order and increases our subjective experience of control, which results in higher work satisfaction.

Feedback is also an essential part of effective learning.  According to research, academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other teaching behavior. Real-time feedback also increases motivation that is commonly used in gamified systems. Knowing how you are doing and what you need to do to progress or win is a powerful motivator.

But is Coursera platform providing overview and appropriate feedback to enhance students’ learning experiences?

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