Development Considerations

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) differ from face-to-face courses in a number of ways:

  • Greater instructional and technology resources are available to support your course innovations.
  • Time commitment is significant for developing a MOOC.
  • Innovative strategies for supporting online student engagement are essential.
  • Creative methods for assessing student learning are necessary.
  • Alternatives to copyrighted course materials may need to be considered.

Below we list information around each of these areas, which we expect will be helpful as you craft your proposal. In advance of drafting your proposal you should also familiarize yourself with existing MOOCs offered by edX.

If you have any questions while developing your MOOC proposal, please contact your support team at:


Course Design

  • How many weeks is the course designed to take? Courses with the steadiest participation tend to be 4 to 6 weeks.
  • How can students actively interact with material (vs. learning passively)?
  • Consider how adaptable the course design can be.  Depending on production demands, will there be multiple ways to represent content?
  • Does the course content lend itself to a particularly innovative presentation? (e.g., potential for using student-student interaction?)
  • From where will the course draw its materials (e.g., books, journals, magazines, movies)? Are there copyright, materials, or resource concerns that must be addressed?

Course Concept

  • Does the course topic and content reflect the faculty member(s) reputation as expert(s) or field leader(s)?
  • Does the course leverage unique holdings or expertise at Cornell?
  • Does the course leverage departments at Cornell that are not commonly found in the MOOC universe?
  • Can the course be leveraged for other purposes at Cornell?

Institutional considerations

  • What does this course accomplish on behalf of the department/college/Cornell?
  • Is there evidence of department/college support for course development and delivery?



One difference between creating a MOOC and designing a traditional classroom or online course is in the level of support available. Once your proposal is accepted, you will have a team of instructional and technological specialists to assist you in the design, development, production and support of your MOOC, as well as to advise you about related innovations and sustainability.

Who is your support team, as you design your CornellX MOOC?

The team includes the staff at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Academic Technologies, and the University Library:

  • The Center for Teaching Excellence provides pedagogical support including assistance in developing a course syllabus, formulating learning outcomes, development and organization of course content into effective modules, and creating meaningful activities and assessments.
  • Academic Technologies supports the development and production of the course within the edX Online Platform by translating course content into appropriate interactive content. Production may include the development of video and other multimedia elements, assessments, discussion boards and other student activities
  • The University Library supports the selection of resources for the course and required permissions for materials under copyright, including textbooks, digital images, and videos.



MOOCs are typically shorter than traditional courses, varying in length from 4 to 8 weeks. Research data indicates that the most successful MOOCs are shorter in length, ranging from 4 to 6 weeks and have a higher retention rate. But despite the shorter course length, creating a MOOC takes substantially more time than preparation for a traditional face-to-face course. The amount of time will vary depending on the duration and design of the MOOC.

What is involved when a MOOC is under development?

Advance planning includes all aspects of the course design, from lectures to assignments to grading criteria. All course elements will need to be completed well before the course actually launches on edX. Your MOOC project team will work with the faculty member(s) to develop a timeline that allows sufficient time to build and launch an edX course. An example of a MOOC development and production cycle is as follows:

  • Course Development:  1 month; with design work spanning several weeks in some cases.  Develop course goals and blueprint that outlines the included learning modules and course duration.
  • Course Design and Production: 2 – 4 months. Complete instructional design of each learning module, record video and develop media, and implement course on edX platform.
  • Launch and Support your MOOC – 4 – 8 weeks, depending on course length.

What effort and activities are involved when a MOOC is launched?

  • Course administration, including monitoring the class and responding to students, can take up a lot of TA and instructor time.

  • TA support is vital for course administration. TAs are typically a content resource and in addition, some course may also have a TA as a general resource for the course – both would be involved in monitoring discussion boards and helping to manage the course. TAs are highly recommended for course planning and production. TAs can also help develop course content and design assessments, can can be involved in the MOOC production in it’s early stages.

  • Support for edX MOOCs will be provided by Academic Technologies during launch and production.

It’s important to reflect on your other commitments, professional, travel, and teaching. If possible, don’t plan to teach or prepare a new course while you are developing and offering the MOOC.


Engaging students in an online environment like a MOOC is challenging and requires instructor presence. Large attrition rates are common for MOOCs. MOOC students are very diverse representing all ages, cultures, and .educational levels.

How can you engage students with your course content, with each other, and with you?

This effort often requires innovative thinking and creative ideas. Some considerations around engaging students include:

  • Students in MOOCs are different from typical university students. They come from all over the globe, and from different contexts, life experiences, educational levels, English language skills, motivations for taking the course, and levels of commitment to your MOOC.

  • Instructors must acknowledge that MOOC students are very diverse representing all ages, cultures, and have a range of different student motivations. MOOC instructors must accommodate a wide range of engagement levels from students who want to master all of the material and will complete all assignments, as well those who simply want to audit the course.

  • To maintain student engagement, key effective practices include breaking the course down into smaller units, and identifying what students will be able to know or do after the unit and how the material will apply to them or answer their needs. Students are more likely to stay in a course if they find the material engaging and content that is meaningful to them and how they might use it.

  • You can increase engagement by building in frequent and varied opportunities for students to interact with the material through questions, problems, or projects.

  • You can use discussion forums to deepen course involvement, encourage students to learn from each other, and broaden the course by giving a voice to diverse perspectives.

  • Some other strategies that have been successful include peer review, group used to engage students include peer review, social media and student project work.

  • There are also methods available to enable you to simulate face-to-face interaction with the students. Some ideas include timely video updates on discussions or assignments, and synchronous sessions for office hours and live discussions with faculty and special guest.


Methods of assessment you have used in the past will likely need to be reshaped to work for the extremely large numbers of students in a typical MOOC (10,000 – 20,000 on average). Assessing in MOOCs is challenging, but instructors and course designers have come up with many creative and effective ways to address this challenge.

What creative ways can be included to enable students to demonstrate their learning?

Considerations for designing assessment processes include:

  • Manual grading of or response to quizzes, exams, or papers is not possible, but the use of peer review is an option.

  • Thoughtfully designed machine-graded quizzes and exams can effectively assess student learning.

  • Self-graded and peer-graded writing assignments can offer opportunities for both substantive and reflective assessment.

  • To support peer-grading, you can set clear expectations for assignments and provide grading guidelines and rubrics.

  • Group projects or assignments can offer opportunities for collaborative learning.

  • Some types of activities may not be suited for the MOOC environment.


Most MOOC platforms, including edX, require that course readings be open access and free, which frequently means that traditional textbooks, books, and journal articles are not available to be used. Fair Use doesn’t apply in a MOOC, therefore materials that may be used in a face-to-face class or online course under Fair Use can’t necessarily be used in a MOOC. In general, however, MOOCs rely less on outside reading than do traditional courses. Some types of activities may not be suited for the MOOC environment.

How can instructors find alternative resources to the copyrighted materials used in traditional courses?

  • Work with the University Library to find out whether publishers will grant permissions for desired content.

  • The support team in the Library will help you locate alternative readings when necessary.

  • Design the course to work without substantial outside reading, if necessary.

Questions? Please contact us at:

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