I have been following with great interest the excitement over the last year about Massive Open Online courses. MOOCs, as they are called, are classes offered by well-known faculty members for free through online platforms like Coursera, edX and Udacity. Online and distance education is nothing new. In fact, neither are MOOCs, but the media attention they are receiving right now means that non-profit leaders should consider how this phenomenon might serve your mission. To follow are a few ideas about how non-profits might get on the MOOC bandwagon.
MOOCs for professional development
Online courses, particularly of the free variety, may serve your organization as a staff development tool. Many of the first courses on the three major platforms are in science and math fields, but Coursera is quickly moving into other areas, including public health and even writing. Udacity offers a course on How to Build a Start-up that includes some essential business content that might be useful to some of your employees. The popular blog Marginal Revolution has started a MOOC on Development Economics, which may be of use to non-profits working in international or community development.
In addition to the free MOOCs, there has been a proliferation of moderately-priced online courses, often in the areas of technology and social media. Technology new site “The Next Web” has started offering online courses through what it calls “TNW Academy“. Their first course, on search engine optimization, sold out almost immediately.
Udemy is new a platform for offering online courses. There may be some courses to help your staff get up to speed on photography, certain software packages, or other topics. The founders predict that within ten years, all domain area experts will be teaching their own online courses through platforms like this.
MOOCs to accomplish your mission
If part of your organization’s mission is to provide education or tutoring services, you may be able to incorporate MOOC content into your curriculum. Even some universities are adopting MOOC lectures and other materials into their own for-credit courses. Your organization may offer tutoring or advising services around a MOOC’s content. You may wish to contact the platform of the MOOC you wish to use to make sure that they don’t anticipate any scheduling changes.
While the last two suggestions deal with using existing MOOCs, the next two items are for organizations that might be in the position to offer a MOOC. As with any social media undertaking, careful planning and cyberinfrastructure will be key. You don’t want to make a commitment to a project and have it fall apart because a key person leaves or your server resources prove inadequate.
MOOCs for your volunteers or clients
The Red Cross recently announced that they would begin to offer a portion of their first-aid and other trainings online. (hat-tip Rick Kiker) Online training can be a powerful way to broaden and/or standardize the training you offer to volunteers. People appreciate the ability to work on the trainings at their own pace. Tools like Udemy and Zoomstra allow you to host your training materials in the cloud.
Certificates for completing the training can be quite highly valued by people who are committed to your mission. Increasingly, online education is turning to badges or microcredentials as rewards for learners who attain special milestones or who are especially helpful. Certain badge platforms allow learners to post these microcredentials to LinkedIn or social media sites. You might consider whether some sort of gamification would motivate your volunteers or other learners in your program.
MOOCs for community-building and crowdsourcing
The precursor to the 2012 MOOCs offers by major US universities are the connectivist or “cMOOCs” that have been offered by Canadian and British univerisites since 2009. Unlike the platform- and instructor-centric MOOCs, cMOOCs are more like online events. Participants are asked to blog and tweet about course content using a hashtag. The idea here is to create artifacts all over the web about your course materials while curating them in a single location like Storify or Hootcourse.
National Novel Writing Month is a good example of a cMOOC. Participants produce their own content, but form a community around the shred task of writing a 50,000-word draft of an original novel. MOOCs going on right now include #OpEd12 and #CFHE12, which both deal with higher education. Short-term twitter chats work in a similar way. The Digital Storytelling MOOC ended up creating a sustainable community dedicated to producing compelling online narratives.
Online community-building can also be a great way of generating content to support your mission. Siyavula is a South Africa initiative to create open educational resources for K-12 schools. This group organizes weekend “hackathons” to write, revise and update school textbooks. There may be a way of getting your community involves in creating, revising or translating content for your organization.
MOOCs and hackathons can be gamified by offering “badges” to participants. This can be as simple as generating a nice graphic and sending prticipants the embed code to put it on their ow blog or website. This graphic can link back to your own site to generate traffic and awareness for your own project.
These are just a few ideas. I’d love to hear yours!