My MOOC, 9 months after release

I really should have re-posted one of the many press releases or interviews I participated in about the MOOC (Massively Open Online Course – free to anyone) that I wrote and produced for the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney earlier in the year. Here’s one by the university itself, for example. And here’s the rather fabulous trailer that the incredible film crew at the university made for me, to tell you what it’s all about:

The MOOC, called The Place of Music in 21st Century Education is hosted on Coursera. It’s designed as the first in a series (“specialisation”) of six, and introduces many topics – both theoretical and philosophical – that future MOOCs will expand upon. The feedback over the last few months has been rather fabulous, and while I haven’t been able to spend as much time participating with my online students as I’d have liked (I’ve been rescued by the voluntary work of several students and colleagues, especially the amazing Lina Ponto), I’m very pleased with how it’s going. So I thought that today I’d share some of that feedback and the stats for those thinking of signing up…

Of course, these statistics change continuously, but as I write at the very end of 2016, the course has had 4,631 visitors, of whom 1,747 enrolled and 882 who became “active learners” (actually started learning stuff on the course). That might seem quite a dreadful rate of “conversion” (wait till we get to the piffling number who have actually completed!), but actually research tells us1 that when you give education away for free, that’s what happens.


To me, one of the best things about making a MOOC (and there are plenty of reasons why a MOOC isn’t a great educational model, but let’s not go there now) is the OPEN element – i.e. it’s free to anyone and everyone. When you sign up for a Coursea MOOC, it immediately offers you the paid certificate, and I worry that that might put people off continuing into the course (if you simply say no, you continue into the course and have full access to everything). It may explain why of the (drum roll) 59 people who have completed all 5 weeks of the course successfully, 56 of them paid were those who paid for the certificate. Or, as Coursera’s own research suggests, it may simply be that putting some money up front gives one the motivation to complete!

12 learners (not necessarily completers) rated the course, with 9 giving it 5 stars, two 4 stars, and one person obviously didn’t like it and gave it 1 star. But one can get a much more interesting story from the written feedback, or “stories” that 9 learners were kind enough to complete. Some highlights include…

“I loved your MOOC. It was inspiring and opened my eyes to the possibilities of technology while also valuing more traditional approaches. As a music therapist I was always going to value student-centred teaching and learning, but your MOOC really highlighted the possibilities and gave me a better awareness of some of the excellent research that is around.”

This course really opened my mind to a whole new world of possibilities on how to work with my students. I’m already seeing some major results!

I’m very thankful for what you’ve taught us!

“Thank you for a most enjoyable and provocative course. I particularly liked the presented interviews with all the experts in each aspect of the presented concepts. I also enjoyed reading the submissions of my course peers, and hope to join the google + sharing pages soon.”

“I am a music teacher in NYC and I just completed your course. Thank you for making the course something I could complete while working full time with three of my own kids! I found it inspiring, informative, and validating for many of the things I am trying to do with my classes.”

Great course, excellent guests, and awesome instructor!

“Each and every week was pushing the boundaries of the subject, revealing more potential field of exploration. Inspiring.”

There were some great suggestions for improving the content, which I’ll definitely take on board should the university give me the opportunity to update it at some point. But I want to leave you with a link to a blog by one of my “students” from the course, Pamela Aked. All of the learners are expected to write/make reflections on the course content each week, then read a couple of their peers’ posts which is how the course is assessed. It’s more a question of “show that you’ve thought about this” rather than “what’s the right answer”. Pam’s blogs, which you should take some time to read, were insightful, incredibly well written, but most importantly often carefully and thoughtfully critical – even of some of the content I’d made or curated. Again, if I get a chance to make changes in response to Pam’s thinking, I will, but even if I don’t, it’s blogs like these that make me realise that the MOOC worked, because it has been a stimulus to such thinking, and hopefully even – here and there – some teachers’ practice.

1I’ve linked to a paper by Onah, Daniel F. O., Sinclair, Jane and Boyatt, Russell (2014), but a quick Google Scholar search for “MOOC Dropout” will give you plenty more to get a nuanced understanding.

5 thoughts on “My MOOC, 9 months after release”

  1. I was a completer! Actually, one problem I encountered at the end of the course was not having enough other student articles to critique. But it was a really fascinating MOOC, thank you for the all the effort that went into making it.

      1. At the risk of sounding flippant, would that be getting more participants to complete the course? In all seriousness though, I am interested in the scalability of MOOCs, and making them work even with small numbers of participants – I would love to run a MOOC for pupils in the nine different high schools I teach in each week.

  2. Thanks James!
    You are ever so kind. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to help you out with the MOOC from beta testing it and volunteering. I’ve learnt heaps from the experience.

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