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Guest blogger RÉGIS FAUBET looks at the communication challenges of promoting MOOCs now they have lost much of their novelty value.

THREE years ago, when MOOCs started gaining attention, it was relatively easy for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to benefit from the novelty aspect and get several thousands of students to register for a MOOC.

MOOCs growth trends

MOOCs growth trends

In March 2015, the number of MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses to give them their full name, offered worldwide reached 4277 (with 1139 European MOOCs) and many new platforms had been launched to grab a share of the market.

These factors are making it more difficult for HEIs to stand out with their MOOC offering and attract students in ‘massive’ numbers, making promotion a key success factor for this new type of learning.

From opportunity to strategy

In the recent past, many universities launched MOOCs as an experiment or to jump on the bandwagon: After all the vast majority of institutions were already involved in some form of e-learning and had resources and even a strategy for it. In Europe for instance, 89% of the respondents in the 2013 E-learning in European Higher Education Institutions Report declared having an institutional or faculty-level strategy, or being currently preparing one.

Among the opportunities that schools and universities were trying to explore, the monetisation of MOOCs is still an open question today, as we still have to find an example of a profitable open course. It also seems that as MOOCs inevitably monetise, they will lose their two most important features – massiveness and openness.

mooc imageMOOCs are becoming an important part of a HEI digital strategy, and as such can help to:

  • Reinforce institutional strategy
  • Improve brand positioning and global exposure
  • Attract new students
  • Experiment with new business models

MOOCs are a major asset in both reinforcing an institution’s communication strategy and improving its international scope, but they have become complex, costly objects that require their own promotion and a multidisciplinary approach.

A multidisciplinary approach

Of course, at the centre of a MOOC’s success factors, lies the expertise of an institution and more precisely of an expert faculty member; no MOOC can succeed without these.

But it is increasingly difficult for faculty alone to design and run a good MOOC, subject expertise, recognition and teaching skills are essential but need to be supported by an extensive set of non-academic expertise:

  • Project Management
  • PR/ Communications
  • Storyboarding
  • Interaction Design
  • Instructional Design
  • Web Marketing
  • Production
  • Web Analytics
  • Legal Advice
  • Community Management
  • Post Production, localisation
  • LMS Management
  • Learning analytics
  • Online Video Management
  • CRM

Dealing with complexity and costs

It is still relatively difficult for faculty to find the hundreds of hours in their busy schedule of teaching, research and administrative tasks, that are required to develop a good MOOC: Thus, institutions should always favour and encourage a professor’s own initiative or start with faculty who are already used to sharing course online.

As MOOCs are costly, complex artefacts, another recommendation would be to start with a topic or expertise that is central to the university’s reputation.

Leveraging an expert professor’s reputation is also a good starting point! Unfortunately, they are rarely the most available of faculty members.

Lastly, topics for which there is a good chance of internal re-use for residential students should be preferred, in order to leverage the production costs.

Strategic aspects

Portals, platforms and certifications are the three key elements of a MOOC strategy according to Professor Rémi Bachelet, who launched France’s first MOOC under the guidance of a university instructor.

Portal: Typically, the portal will be the first contact point between the learner and the course. It includes all the details that will convince the learner to register (or not). Major portals include names we all now know: EDx, Coursera, Udacity, FutureLearn, etc. Having a MOOC featured on one of these portals is a major asset for the course’s promotion, thanks to the co-branding benefits.

Platform: They are the “learning engine” behind a MOOC. A learning management system whose features and ease of use will also be central to a MOOC’s success. Canvas, OpenEdx or Coursera belong to the most popular platforms.

Certification: A formal recognition of knowledge acquired online is in some cases the main motivation for learners. Awarding credits or certification is also a good way to confer some credibility to these courses, which are still too often regarded as a marketing or communication tool in many universities.

Today, technology advances make certification and online proctoring an easier and more reliable process than a couple of years ago.

Reaching new audiences

The global reach and open aspects of MOOCs mean HEIs will have to address extremely varied types of audiences, including ones they are not used to deal with.

Depending on the type of course offered, HEIs can expect to reach any of these audiences:

  • Current students
  • Companies
  • Alumni
  • Partner Institutions
  • Professional individuals
  • General public
  • Students from other institutions

Add some geographical and language diversity and things can quickly become complicated for institutions offering a MOOC targeted to heterogeneous audiences.

Promoting a MOOC

Communications and marketing departments within HEIs will have to cooperate closely with faculty to ensure an open course attracts numerous qualified registrants.

Here are a few questions to ask that are important for both the instructional design of the MOOC and its promotion:

  • Context (competition, etc.)
  • Target audiences
  • Portal/Platform/hosting
  • Expected outcomes (revenue, brand awareness, residential program marketing, etc…)

Knowing this information in advance greatly facilitates the promotion process.

As described above, institutions offering courses on the largest, most popular MOOC platforms will benefit from a tremendous advantage in terms of co-branding. Communications teams will have to start the promotion at least two months before the beginning of the course and provide:

  • A promotion / registration web site (for courses without a portal)
  • A promotional video
  • Short copy for ads and social
  • Creative for banners & visuals

Promotion alone will not be enough if the following information is not provided on the portal / web site, and tailored to the targeted audiences:

  • Syllabus and learning outcomes
  • Professor’s experience
  • Legitimacy of delivering institution
  • Workload (hours/week)
  • Duration
  • Certificate, conditions and costs
  • Takeaways

It is not the purpose of this article to determine if MOOCs are here to stay: They are still costly, time-consuming to produce and sometimes criticised, but they have proven a much-needed catalyst for the development of programs that respond to the changing online world.

Régis Faubet

Régis Faubet

THIS BLOG is partly based on Régis Faubet workshop on MOOCs at the last EUPRIO annual conference in Innsbruck. He is speaking again at this year’s conference in Perugia when he will talk about ‘Organising Digital Communications for the 21st Century’.

 Régis started working on digital projects in the late 90’s and for the last eight years has been the Web Manager for Grenoble Ecole de Management, a business school located in the French Alps.