I think Coursera has been listening to its 8.44 million MOOCians (learners) lately. It has joined Udacity in offering On-Demand MOOCs. So far only 3 MOOcs are available in on-demand mode from Coursera, I think there will be more to come.

What are on-demand MOOCs? You may want to ask.

Well there is one aspect of Massive Open Online Courses that has been limiting its acceptance. Due to the familiarity of content / course providers who are almost entirely from academia (with notable exceptions being many course lecturers of Udacity who hails from industry). This means that the MOOCs from the main players like Coursera and edX work on the college-semester system and design the delivery of their MOOCs along fixed time frame, deadlines for assignments/ exams etc. Learners need to follow the schedule and the particular MOOC is only available at fixed time of the year (usually not more than once per year).

To an adult learner, which the bulk of MOOCians belong, the lack of flexibility in most of the MOOCs in terms of the need to enroll and take classes in accordance to a schedule dent lots of the enthusiasm, especially your work life is hectic and you may need to travel frequently.

Someone, especially Udacity came out with a brilliant solution early on. Why don’t we follow the Video-on-demand mode of the movie industry to let users decide when and how they would like to take a MOOC? For the learner, on-demand MOOCs means that they can pick and choose to take which of these MOOCs as their needs arises and decide how long they want to devote to the course each week and the time line for them to complete the course.

However there is one disadvantage to learning in on-demand mode that I can see. Without the tight deadlines and the urging from the professors (albeit via the video lecture) and teaching assistants/ coursemates encouragements and engagements in the asynchronous course discussion forum there is just no pressure for one to progress. The dropout rate for on-demand MOOCs may be far higher than the “conventional” fixed schedule mode. This may be partially mitigated by the MOOC players and content providers if they create (and have teaching assistants in place) to service the learning discussion forum. But I can tell from experience that the feeling of loneliness in learning is the most difficult hurdle for a MOOCian to overcome.

For the MOOC players and content partners, there will have to be many re-defining of the way a MOOC is designed and delivered. Hence re-designing of existing MOOCs may be needed if these are to be “converted” to on-demand mode.  Even in on-demand mode, both the MOOC players and content partners will not be able to let these courses be delivered on “auto-pilot” without inputs. The level of engagement between a course provider (aka a learning institution) and the MOOCians can be very much reduced (thus reducing the cost of delivery). However, someone (a skeleton crew of teaching assistants / technical staff) will need to be monitoring and responding to queries from MOOCians, especially dealing with technical problems. As mentioned above, there is still a need of a course discussion forum for MOOCians to learn from each other and for teaching assistants to help out occasionally.

The design of the assessment for on-demand MOOCs will need to be adjusted. There may not be possible to include “group discussion and peer assessments” in on-demand MOOCs as someone needs to organize the MOOCians and the level of engagement and monitoring is  far too demanding if the on-demand MOOC is available all the time. Thus the kind of assessment that can be used in on-demand MOOCs may be limited to the multiple choice questions only. Thus the likes of Stanford University’s Technology Entrepreneurship MOOCs which requires learners to form their own project groups with high reliant on peer assessment review and scoring will not fit well into the on-demand mode per se.

I think if the MOOC players and content partners can find a way to decouple some of the crucial assessment and engagement elements from on-demand MOOCs and some how offer these as an extra which may require greater inputs from the content providers and hence the market may be opened to the charging of a fee for the added service, this “hybrid” of on-demand delivery with scheduled / supervised assessment may be a possible solution.

I have taken Professor Tobias Kretschmer’s “Competitive Strategy” before and I think Coursera has pick the right MOOC to roll out the on-demand mode. “Competitve Strategy” has all the features that makes it very easily adapted to the on-demand mode.

The on-demand feature will be the first step towards MOOC players and their content/course providers in homing in on the corporate learning market. The next step may is to reduce each course into manageable chunks of modules that a corporate learning provider can mix and match (like Lego bricks) to create a customized learning solution for its clients. I have mentioned before, this may be the pot of gold for the MOOC players (and content partners). Instead of offering an MOOC that cost a lot of resources to create once a year, with on-demand mode, these courses can be rolled out (and thus pick up revenue) as and when there are learners, whether these are MOOCians or from the corporate learning circle, it does not matter!

The MOOC realm is getting more interesting!

Footnote:  Dr. YN Chow is a keen MOOC learner and has taken over 20 MOOCs since the start of the MOOC phenomenon.


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