Fascinating graphic,a sit shows that nearly 42% of the target audience for MOOCs are not the developed world. It also raises an interesting question. Who is it for?’ are four words that tease out a MOOC strategy or lack of strategy. For most it is a marketing exercise in terms of the brand, a way of reducing internal costs on high volume courses, a way of recruiting potential students (directly or through their parents). Yet others see it as a way of flushing out funding from Alumni or presenting an ‘accessible’ face to Government.
For MOOCs, several target audiences have emerged:
1. Internal students on course – cost savings on volume courses
2. Internal students not on course – expanding student experience
3. Potential students national –major source of income
4. Potential students international – major source of income
5. Potential students High school – reputation and preparation
6. Parents – significant in student choice
7. Alumni – potential income and influencers
8. Lifelong learners – late and lifelong adult learners
9. Professionals – related to professions and work
10. Government – part of access strategy
Lifelong learning MOOC
This is the big one, as it produces the big numbers. There seems to be a genuine thirst for courses on a wide range of subjects for people who just want to learn more. This is heartening. Rather than locking in learning within expensive institutions, we may be on the edge of a cliff from which new forms of learning can soar. What’s surprised people is the diverse nature of this group, as they come from lots of different countries.
The set of people who are external is huge and diverse in terms of age, national v international, nationality, ethnicity and first language. You really have to focus down with some profiling (define a typical user) or risk negative reactions from some groups. Most Coursera course are aimed at an external audience but who is this audience? If your course is for people with busy lives, is it wise to offer such strictly synchronous courses?
Internal + external MOOC
Do you want your existing students, either slated for the existing course or others, to do your MOOC? If MOOCs are to fulfil their promise of changing the way we teach and learn and reduce internal costs, this may be necessary.
Sebastian Thrun’s famous MOOC did take existing students, none of whom were in the top performing 400 students. NovoED aim to produce group MOOCs aimed at both internal and external students. It has happened, will happen, and if MOOCs are to change the face of HE, it must happen.
The University of Alberta’s Dino 101 Dinosaur Paleobiology MOOC hopes to attract huge numbers and I’m sure it will. Due for release in September 2013 it’s billed as being “led by Phil Currie, the world’s premier dinosaur hunter”. This is much smarter than the blatant AUE approach, as it is aimed at three audiences:
· Free to anyone (marketing)
· University of Alberta students can do it and get a credit (core business0
· Students from around the world for course accreditation for a modest fee
This is more strategic as it takes the one asset and targets three audiences. They’ve also cleverly sneaked in another marketing objective – tourism, “It will also help highlight the best of Alberta’s rich dinosaur assets”. Smart thinking.
Many MOOCs are more marketing than learning. There one species of MOOC, the outreach MOOC or more accurately the marketing MOOC, that is sprouting up everywhere. These MOOCs are aimed at marketing your brand to new students, parents of potential students and alumni, all potential sources of income, hence the use of the word ‘marketing’. I know academe hate the word ‘marketing’ unless it’s a course in their revenue-rich business school but this is a marketing MOOC.
A good example is the Australian National University, who is building an edX MOOC aimed at high school students, alumni, adult learners and parents, the first two topics are 6 week courses on Astrophysics and Engaging India (English & Hindi). She admitted her University had no real strategy for MOOCs but thought this was a way of testing the water. At least she was honest, as I see precious little strategic thinking around MOOCs but lots of groupthink and bandwagon behaviour.
Professional MOOC (VOOC)
A lot of IT courses are clearly aimed at the skills market and professionals who want to get a job or promotion. Udemy is full of such courses. There’s nothing new here, other perhaps, in them being free, though many do have a cost. This type of course has been long available on the web. An interesting example is the Google MOOC, aimed at a specific skill, improving your search skills. We can expect many more of these, MOOCs or Vocational MOOCs (VOOCs) that tackle a specific skills or issue.
Many MOOCs want to hit a number of these audiences but this is not easy as they have different needs in terms of approach, commitment, start times, accreditation needs, technical issues and support. Knowing your target audience from the start matters, as it influences the choice of platform, as well as design and nature of the content. Initial data suggests that large numbers of people from around the world, who do not have easy access to Higher Education, have taken MOOCs (41%). The language level for those with English as a second language may therefore have to be considered, as well as level of difficulty, relevant examples, appropriate peer activity, group needs, synchronous or asynchronous, and so on. You may also want to be clear in the registration process about the data you want to identify and gather for later analysis.
The problem is that the decision makers often don’t have the marketing skills to differentiate between different addressable audiences. External adult learners may not want a long-winded, over-engineered, six to ten week course on anything. Life’s too short. Yet academics are used to producing courses of this semester length. What many may want are mini MOOCs. They may want them to be asynchronous starting and ending when convenient for them. This, of course, is exactly what’s happening. All in all, however, the good news is that MOOCs are forcing HE institutions to change. MOOCs may very well be the force that makes them more open, transparent and relevant. There will, of course, be a backlash, but the digital genie is out of the bottle - MOOCs are here to stay.