Making MOOCs Work

Darden's Peter Rodriguez on what the school has learned about MOOCs and how they make sense for higher education.
Making MOOCs Work
The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in Charlottesville was one of the first business schools to offer a massive open online course, or MOOC, on the Coursera platform. This spring, the school announced its newest MOOC, “Fundamentals of Project Plan­ning and Management.” It’s now part of six MOOCs Darden offers on topics ranging from strategy to innovation to the management of business growth.

Recently, BizEd talked to Peter Rodriguez, Darden’s associate dean for degree programs and associate professor of business administration, about what the school has learned and how MOOCs make sense for higher education.

So far, 800,000 students have taken one of Darden’s MOOCs—how many have completed one?
Students have earned 40,000 statements of accomplishment for passing all the assignments in our MOOCs. That’s about 5 percent. Some MOOCs have higher completion rates than others. “Grow to Greatness,” taught by Ed Hess, has the highest completion rate at about 10 percent. But those numbers have never bothered me. People sign up for MOOCs for different reasons than they sign up for a traditional course. Some are interested in learning, not getting a credential; some need some informa­tion, not all of it. But the 5 percent who finish are really motivated—the experi­ence is meaningful for them.

We’ve had about 14,000 to 15,000 people complete degrees at Darden in the entire history of the school. We’ve had about 40,000 complete our MOOCs. These are people we probably wouldn’t have connected with otherwise.

What makes a good MOOC?
We’ve learned a lot about instructional design—how to carry learners along at a good pace with content that keeps them engaged. We’ve learned how to “chunk” or segment the course in ways that provide learners with good succession points throughout. Production value is also important. You can spend a lot on producing a MOOC, but you also can produce high-quality courses at a man­ageable cost.

Faculty have learned how to design each course like a screenplay, which takes time—it’s different from the extemporaneous style they use in the classroom. Faculty must be scripted, but seem natural enough that they don’t lose the flow of the class. Ed Hess has a very natural style. He can engage with students because he just looks at the camera as if it’s another person.

Many believe that the free MOOC model doesn’t make sense for higher education. What is the payback for Darden?
Recently, we began offering a fee-based online course for those who want to go deeper into the subject after complet­ing our MOOC “Design Thinking and Innovation,” and that has been success­ful. Based on what we’ve learned with our MOOCs, we’ve offered a fee-based course several times through NovoEd, an online platform where students sign up for a course as they would a MOOC. We’ve also done some custom cours­es for companies that wanted private MOOCs for their employees. About 40 percent of our leads for these paid cours­es come through our MOOCs. They’ve become a sales funnel for us.

What will Darden’s next steps with MOOCs be?
We plan to offer more MOOCs at a steady pace in topics like project man­agement and marketing intelligence, and we’ll continue to rerun the ones that we have. That’s one part of MOOCs that is often underappreciated: As our library of MOOCs builds up over time, we can run them from multiple platforms over and over. We can keep content that still works and update the examples to keep everything fresh. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, so our portfolio of courses will grow exponentially.