Google’s experience with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs are gaining popularity. During session SU111 of day 1 at ASTD2013, Julia Wilkowski and Phil Wagner took us thought their experiences designing and delivering MOOCs at Google.


A colleague of mine just followed a MOOC on Gamification with @kwerb and Coursera. She had a great opportunity to gather a lot of information and learning on a new topic that really interested her. (You can read my mini Twitter interview with her on this post) In Belgium, we just had a great MOOC on how to use Internet for learning. But if you want to set and run your own MOOC what are the key steps to take? How can you ensure success? What are the key competences required of a MOOC facilitator? What are the challenges for MOOC participants to really learning? And are MOOCs only interesting for large multi-site organisations? Let’s see what Julia and Phil had to say…


Why is Google interested in MOOCs?

Google’s mission is to organise and make available all of the world’s information. Clearly MOOCing is linked to that. But why is it interesting? What is the added-value?

When the very first MOOC went online, over 100 thousand people got involved. Some of the online students did better in the course than the people who followed it IRL at Stanford. Why? Google’s own evaluations showed massive satisfaction from the learning population. They loved the format. They saw more search results related to the content during and after the MOOC (engagement)…


What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a massive open online course. To be massive, you have to have at least 100 learning participants and maybe as many as 10000. MOOCs have instructors, instruction (content) goals and schedules. It may be as simple as delivering knowledge to the masses, or it may include discussion forums or Q/A sessions with experts, testing and certification. At Google, they used several of their own branded tools to create interactive, measurable learning activities (eg Google Hangouts and YouTube). MOOCs can be used to learn specific knowledge and skills, but may also be an opportunity to have crowds of people learn together to solve complex human problems, like traffic problems in Tokyo.


What do Google do to get MOOC success? What can YOU do?

  • Have diversity of content offerings/platforms. It is important to give MOOC students choice about how they learn.
  • Measure hits on various content (using Google analytics, for example)
  • Give feedback as quickly as possible, by creating challenges for students to self-test their own learning as they go through the course
  • Google saw that not everyone likes complete freedom in the way they follow through content. In order to account for people who need a little more structure, they offered a “scaffolding” or learning structure/order to follow. Those who found it easily to choose for themselves were not obliged to follow the structure.
  • Let people self-evaluate their learning as they go. Google of course gave people the right answers to things as they were learning, but they also encouraged people to meta-evaluate their own learning approach during the MOOC.
  • Offer an equal amount of text-based learning and video-based learning. In Google’s first evaluations, they saw that the number of hits per lesson was split roughly 50:50 text:visual. We often assume that one or the other would have more impact/success for certain learners or content, but Google continues to develop them both.
  • Work hard to create a good community within learning participants. Google have seen that the completion rate of MOOC courses are significantly higher when there is a sense of community with connection and accountability towards other learners. Include the community aspect in your MOOC.
  • Break learning activities into short chunks. For example, a video should not be more than 5 minutes long.
  • Follow up acquisition of knowledge (lessons) with experimentation and self-testing moments. Julia Wilkowski is convinced this increases completion rates and general engagement.
  • Have a facilitator once the MOOC is online. Look out for spam and stoke the fire for success.


How can normal non-Google people get started with MOOC building?

One of Google’s strategic interests is the ability to easily scale solutions. For that reason, they have created (and open-sourced) Google Course Builder. This free tool can be used right out-of-the-box to make simple MOOCs with content you already have. Phil Wagner repeats: “It could be online this afternoon.” But if you want to make it more sexy or if you have coding experience and time, it is completely open-source.


Great first session with Julia and Phil. Met Rick Lozano IRL and feeling energised for more đŸ˜‰

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to tune into the ASTD2013 Daily Dallas Weather Reports on during the conference…



Published by Dan Steer

For the last 17 years, I have been helping businesses and individuals to achieve their goals through delivery of tailor-made learning and development initiatives. Most of the time, I deliver training, coach individuals, facilitate brainstorming sessions, round-table meetings and workshops. As a consultant, I help my clients to promote and profit from the infinite learning opportunities within and without their own organisation, drawing on my L+D management experience, strategic approach and creativity, As a speaker, I inspire through story, humour and pertinent little bits of theory. I believe that the world would be a better place if people were happily working on their mission with competence and alignment to personal values. As a freelance worker since 2008, I have helped more than 11000 individuals to improve their presentation, communication, commercial, leadership and negotiation skills. I confront people with their own behaviour and convictions, facilitating and giving pertinent feedback and clear ideas on where to continue good work and improve. I seek to satisfy my clients with creative and to-the-point solutions… …and I make music, but no-one pays me much for it yet :-) First single here:

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1 Comment

  1. Great news. Super excited to see technology companies jumping in and offering their technology expertise to advance online education.

    We’ll be waiting for the course offering by to include it in, a Pinterest-like platform for MOOCs, helping organziations develop skill bootcamps of existing MOOCs. (e.g. MBA:

    Bassem | @brfayek | |

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