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M is for Massive, but don’t Misuse My MOOCs

Though Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are still a relatively new concept, there is a right way and a wrong way to use the Massive scale of MOOCs.  My inbox is frequently filled with MOOC-related emails, as I am on numerous email lists as a result of completing more than 10 MOOCs to create my own MBA from free online courses.  For the most part, I appreciate the email updates, announcements, and MOOC news.  However, more and more of these emails are crossing the line into spam.  This short article is a reflection on the right way and the wrong way to use the Massive nature of MOOCs, and the good and bad of MOOC mailing lists.


How Massive is Massive?

First, let us quickly define what is really meant my the M in MOOC. Massive is the leading term in MOOC, and rightfully so.  The Massive nature of MOOCs is one of the main features that distinguishes them from the traditional brick and mortar classroom.  But what do we mean by Massive?  According to a study by researcher Katy Jordan, the average MOOC enrolls 43,000 students.  This is slightly lower than the numbers I encountered in the business-focused MOOCs I completed to make my Homemade MBA, which were typically just under 100,000 students each.  Either way, at 43,000 or 100,000 students, MOOCs truly are Massive.  But, with great exposure comes great responsibility.


What would you do with an audience of 43,000?

First of all, I would like to give credit to any professor that steps up to the plate (or, in front of the camera, rather) to teach a MOOC.  As if it isn’t enough to lecture in front of 40 or even 400 students, it must be quite nerve wracking to know that you are delivering a lecture to 40,000+ students.  And not only that, you will be immortalized by video that can be downloaded wherever there is an internet connection, for the rest of time.  Yes we can do some editing, (some instructors take more advantage of this that others) but you and your lecture will be out there on the interweb for everyone to see.  That takes some courage, and deserves more recognition that it is currently getting.


However, there is a right way and a wrong way to use the MOOC stage.  Now that these professors have audiences in the tens or hundreds of thousands, there should be proportionately more care and judgement exercised when deciding how to use this newly created MOOC Megaphone.  Judging by my inbox alone, this is not always they case.


The right way to use MOOCs, and MOOC course rosters.  

As I mentioned before, there are many benefits of being on MOOC email lists.  I enjoy being notified of new course offerings, repeat offerings of old courses I had either shown interest in or enrolled in, and updates to course content that might have been time-sensitive or required some time to compile survey results in a meaningful way.  These are just a few examples of the right way to use a MOOC, and MOOC email lists.  A particularly great example that recently visited my inbox was from my old course, “Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence.”  Prof. Boyatzis used the list of students that had previously enrolled in this course to try and crowdsource translation of the course into new languages:

MOOC email - good

Example of a good MOOC email – crowdsourcing translation

Yes, of course the above is an attempt to broaden the “market” of students that could be reached by this course, but that is exactly the point of a MOOC.  This is a great example of trying to take advantage of the Massive nature of MOOCs for the greater good – trying to enable Prof. Boyatzis to reach more people who don’t speak English.  Bravo, Boyatzis.


The wrong way to use MOOCs, and MOOC course rosters.

In stark contrast to the altruistic MOOC email above, I am starting to receive some MOOC emails that are blatant spam: advertisements.

MOOC email - bad

Example of a bad MOOC email – spam advertisement

Given, this example is from an Entrepreneurship professor, so we should expect as much (trying to make a quick buck), but this is an unacceptable abuse of the MOOC Microphone.  This not only annoys former students like me, but harms the reputation of both the individual professor as well as the institution that enables and facilitates the distribution of spam like this – in this case, the University of Maryland.  If I was interested in spending $19,500 (instead of the $0 I spent last time) for your online material, you wouldn’t have found me on Coursera.  I mean, do you really think people like me are your target market?  This is just pathetic, and leaves a sour taste in my mouth for the University of Maryland.


Massive temptation.

The temptation to Misuse the MOOC must be massive.  From a university’s perspective, those enrolling in a MOOC could be real-life, tuition paying students someday.  From the professor’s perspective, the list of students who enrolled in their MOOC could possibly mean tens of thousands more book sales, or seminar attendees. Imagine, they think, what if just 10% of this list responds favorably?!  Even 5%!  Of course, the problem with this mentality is its short-term nature.  What if, instead of going for the one-time sale, the Universities and Professors that write these email thought about the lifetime of good word-of mouth reputation building they could possibly achieve through proper communication with former students via MOOC email lists?  I recommend that any holder of the all-powerful MOOC email list be sure they are providing value to the recipient of their MOOC email.  Then, and only then, will they stand to benefit as well.


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  1. […] both the beautiful and beastly possibilities of the MOOC revolution – MOOC email lists.  Read my full article here in the MOOC News section of Homemade MBA to hear my reflection on the right way and the wrong way to use MOOCs (and MOOC course email […]

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