Thursday, April 25, 2013

MOOCs: Who’s using MOOCs? 10 different target audiences

Fascinating graphic,a sit shows that nearly 42% of the target audience for MOOCs are not the developed world. It also raises an interesting question. Who is it for?’ are four
words that tease out a MOOC strategy or lack of strategy. For most it is a
marketing exercise in terms of the brand, a way of reducing internal costs on
high volume courses, a way of recruiting potential students (directly or
through their parents). Yet others see it as a way of flushing out funding from
Alumni or presenting an ‘accessible’ face to Government.

For MOOCs, several target audiences have emerged:

1. Internal
students on course – cost savings on volume courses

2. Internal
students not on course – expanding student experience

3. Potential
students national –major source of income

4. Potential
students international – major source of income

5. Potential
students High school – reputation and preparation

6. Parents –
significant in student choice

7. Alumni –
potential income and influencers

8. Lifelong learners
– late and lifelong adult learners

9. Professionals
– related to professions and work

10. Government – part of access strategy

Lifelong learning MOOC

This is the big one, as it produces the big numbers. There
seems to be a genuine thirst for courses on a wide range of subjects for people
who just want to learn more. This is heartening. Rather than locking in
learning within expensive institutions, we may be on the edge of a cliff from
which new forms of learning can soar. What’s surprised people is the diverse
nature of this group, as they come from lots of different countries.

The set of
people who are external is huge and diverse in terms of age, national v
international, nationality, ethnicity and first language. You really
have to focus down with some profiling (define a typical user) or risk negative
reactions from some groups. Most Coursera course are aimed at an external
audience but who is this audience? If your course is for people with busy
lives, is it wise to offer such strictly synchronous courses?

Internal + external MOOC

Do you want your existing students, either slated for the existing
course or others, to do your MOOC? If MOOCs are to fulfil their promise of
changing the way we teach and learn and reduce internal costs, this may be

Sebastian Thrun’s famous MOOC did take existing students,
none of whom were in the top performing 400 students. NovoED aim to produce group
MOOCs aimed at both internal and external students. It has happened, will
happen, and if MOOCs are to change the face of HE, it must happen.

University of Alberta’s Dino 101 Dinosaur Paleobiology MOOC hopes to attract huge
numbers and I’m sure it will. Due for release in September 2013 it’s billed as
being “led by Phil Currie, the world’s premier dinosaur
hunter”. This is much smarter than the blatant AUE approach, as it is aimed at
three audiences:

Free to anyone

University of Alberta
students can do it and get a credit (core business0

Students from
around the world for course accreditation for a modest fee

This is more strategic as it
takes the one asset and targets three audiences. They’ve also cleverly sneaked
in another marketing objective – tourism, “It will also help highlight the best
of Alberta’s rich dinosaur assets”. Smart thinking.

Outreach MOOC

Many MOOCs are more marketing than learning. There one
species of MOOC, the outreach MOOC or more accurately the marketing MOOC, that
is sprouting up everywhere. These MOOCs are aimed at marketing your brand to
new students, parents of potential students and alumni, all potential sources
of income, hence the use of the word ‘marketing’. I know academe hate the word
‘marketing’ unless it’s a course in their revenue-rich business school but this
is a marketing MOOC.

A good example is the Australian National University, who is
building an edX MOOC aimed at high school students, alumni, adult learners and
parents, the first two topics are 6 week courses on Astrophysics and Engaging
India (English & Hindi). She admitted her University had no real strategy
for MOOCs but thought this was a way of testing the water. At least she was
honest, as I see precious little strategic thinking around MOOCs but lots of
groupthink and bandwagon behaviour.

Professional MOOC

A lot of IT courses are clearly aimed at the skills market
and professionals who want to get a job or promotion. Udemy is full of such
courses. There’s nothing new here, other perhaps, in them being free, though
many do have a cost. This type of course has been long available on the web. An
interesting example is the Google MOOC, aimed at a specific skill, improving
your search skills. We can expect many more of these, MOOCs that tackle a
specific issue.

Marketing problem

Many MOOCs want to hit a number of these audiences but this
is not easy as they have different needs in terms of approach, commitment,
start times, accreditation needs, technical issues and support. Knowing your
target audience from the start matters, as it influences the choice of
platform, as well as design and nature of the content. Initial data suggests
that large numbers of people from around the world, who do not have easy access
to Higher Education, have taken MOOCs (41%). The language level for those with
English as a second language may therefore have to be considered, as well as
level of difficulty, relevant examples, appropriate peer activity, group needs,
synchronous or asynchronous, and so on. You may also want to be clear in the
registration process about the data you want to identify and gather for later


The problem is that the decision makers often don’t have the
marketing skills to differentiate between different addressable audiences. External
adult learners may not want a long-winded, over-engineered, six to ten week
course on anything. Life’s too short. Yet academics are used to producing
courses of this semester length. What many may want are mini MOOCs. They may want
them to be asynchronous starting and ending when convenient for them. This, of
course, is exactly what’s happening. All in all, however, the good news is that
MOOCs are forcing HE institutions to change. MOOCs may very well be the force
that makes them more open, transparent and relevant. There will, of course, be
a backlash, but the digital genie is out of the bottle - MOOCs are here to

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