Setting up an open online course (cloud course or MOOC) is one thing, but keeping the participants motivated can be quite a challenge if you never meet face-to-face. The dropout rate of online courses can be huge, and for collaborative courses this can be disastrous, as it will have an effect on the peer-to-peer learning dynamics.

Luckily, there are 10 easy things you can do to keep your learner audience motivated.

The top 10 tips

Prepare the learners for information overload

Be clear from the start, and emphasize the abundance of information that learners will encounter when they follow the course (discussions, new content, bookmarks). You can view a short list of pointers on how to cope with information overload here.

Provide different options for learner participation

For those learners who feel insecure or do not have a lot of spare time, lurking supports passively reading all the materials without participating in discussions. For intermediate participants, provide a way to add content, ideas, or remarks at irregular intervals without requiring continuous participation. This might be best for people who have limited time available or those with a specific interest. Very active participants create a lot of content, invest a lot of time, and keep discussions and ideas going. Be sure to provide channels that support this, such as an internal micro-blog (think Twitter).

Provide communicative facilitators or guides-on-the-side

Guides-on-the-side offer assistance and support to any MOOC participant. This way, the learners are each free to choose their own learning paths, but when they are stuck, the guide-on-the-side provides solutions.

Attract a motivational, knowledgeable, communicative overall coordinator

An overall facilitator or coordinator can function as the glue of a course. This overall course facilitator is ideally someone with content expertise. He or she is also communicative and knowledgeable about using the online tools that the designer chose (see the earlier installments in this series). This way she or he can help out whenever necessary.

Provide round-up mails after each topic

The facilitators do this. Round-up mails make it possible to highlight the content (blogs, opinion papers, discussion threads) provided by specific participants. Facilitators must make sure they can provide a list or index of all the blogs and other outside content that participants were writing on their own (being well-structured helps).

Ensure a positive learning environment

Stress the importance of being constructive. This is especially true for the facilitators as well as the participants. Even if there are differences in opinion, ensure that everyone keeps even the most hotheaded discussion civilized.

Be kind to non-native English speakers

If you attract an international audience, most of them will not be native English speakers or experienced at writing in English. Don’t make a fuss about correct use of the English language—it is already difficult entering a course designed in another language. This also means that certain formulations might be awkward due to the misunderstanding of some English terms, which can lead to potential debates. Give every discussion thread or response the benefit of the doubt if at first it seems rude. It might just be a different cultural perception, or a different use of language.

Underline the importance of being part of the learner community

We can all learn from each other. Some of us might be more experienced coming into the course, but beginners always offer a new perspective, so be open to any contributions, however basic or techie they may seem. Supporting each other keeps everyone moving forward.

Provide some fun

Insert an informal contest or group activity to get everyone together again.

Provide time to breathe

If you offer a long course (several weeks), make sure you give your participants some time to breathe. Remember that every brain needs some down time for better understanding, reflection, and functioning.

If you want to see the kinds of interactions that can take place in a MOOC or cloud course, feel free to take a look at the MOOC on mobile learning, called MobiMOOC, that ran from September 8 – 30, 2012. If you have a question concerning MOOCs or cloud courses, feel free to contact me.