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By Haidee Thanda, Instructional Designer 

For the past few months, I have been working at a university to develop their first MOOCs (also known as Massive Open Online Courses). As a student who has taken courses in a classroom setting on top of working a 25 hour/week part-time job, I have been motivated about the opportunities and flexibility these courses can provide. The potential they present is very exciting. However, success rates aren’t as great as you might think. For all of the hype about MOOCs, the dropout rate is approximately 90 percent (Liyanagunawardena, Adams, & Williams, 2013). Only a fraction of students successfully complete a course.

Bayne and Ross’ report for the Higher Education Academy on The Pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course: the UK view (2013), provides valuable insights into the tensions, ambiguities and opportunities afforded by MOOCs. Truly, there are as many reasons for the low student completion rate as there are individual motivations for taking an online course. As an instructional designer, this made me curious and I decided to explore this problem.

With the interest of many universities veering towards developing open online courses, the alarming statistics on dropout rates and some really stimulating discussions with faculty and colleagues, I decided to pitch a solution to help students successfully complete online courses at EDU Startup Weekend Montreal. The aim of Startup Weekend was to come together and share tech solutions for education, by forming teams and developing minimal viable products (MVP).

Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, popularized the idea of a minimum viable product, also known as quick prototyping. The concept is akin to writing an outline and getting it reviewed by your audience before you do hours of research and build your argument. When you get early feedback, you are able to develop a more effective paper.

We named our prototype the “MOOC survivor tool.” While developing a prototype, I learned that there were a few things this approach could offer to the field of online learning.

When applied to online learning, the idea is simple: create a prototype in increments and test it with customers to validate its effectiveness with real life users. This allows you to learn about what your users need and want while investing little time in going down unnecessary paths. It is essentially a fast process to nullify or accept your hypotheses and assumptions. The process tells you from an early stage if your idea or hypothesis is useful and worth building. The formula is simple: build, test, learn and repeat:


So what can creating a minimal viable product offer the world of learning and development?

As a designer, my ultimate aim is to build a product that meets the desired learning outcomes in order to develop knowledge and skills. Without gathering feedback, it’s difficult to know if I am hitting the mark. So I need to test early and frequently. When I create an MVP, it’s easier to not get attached to a basic design so I can make faster iterations. In most cases, developing an MVP can accelerate learning and save valuable resources.


Bayne, S., & Ross, J. (2013). The pedagogy of the Massive Open Online Course: the UK view.

Liyanagunawardena, T. R., Adams, A. A., & Williams, S. A. (2013). MOOCs: A systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(3), 202-227.


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    Bob Marlie

    The article which you have posted is great. Thanks for sharing this information.