Task based MOOC design: challenges and opportunities

The EMMA project joined the Open Education week 2016 with a webinar on designing instruction in massive online education according to the principles of task-centred design (Merrill, 2002, 2007). Dr Mart Laanpere, Tallinn University and Dr Olga Firssova, Open University Netherlands, both EMMA partners, were the speakers during this one hour session.

MOOCs tend to follow an instructivist approach where learners are mostly expected to acquire knowledge presented by the teacher in a rather passive learning mode. Such design neglects the principles of active and engaging learning (c.f., Margaryan, Bianco, & Littlejohn, 2014). Task-centred instructional design models offer meaningful tasks and learning experiences that follow active learning principles. Up till now, implementations of task-centred MOOC designs are, however, scarce. There is little knowledge of the challenges designers face in the process of realising task-centred online courses, open for all and potentially followed by many at the same time.


The webinar attempted to bridge existing gaps by introducing the concept of task-centred design, and elaborating on the model of task-centred design developed by David Merrill (2007). The model and its components were presented together with easy to understand and implement examples of meaningful and engaging whole tasks that support active and collaborative knowledge construction.

Furthermore, the webinar presented a real life example of an online course in which active learning following a task-centred approach is realised in practice. While this example is based on a regular distance learning course in which up to 50 students engage in meaningful learning tasks to attain a new complex skill, many of design decisions are relevant for open and massive courses as well. This example is meant to open the way to further discussion of the burning issues of transferring experiences of online education into designs for massive and open online courses.

Olga_picThe webinar is recorded and can be watched here. The webinar is part of the series of webinars organised by the EMMA project for people interested in improving the pedagogical design of MOOCs and/or planning to start a MOOC of their own.

by Olga Firssova, WELTEN Institute – Open University, The Netherlands

Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2015). Instructional quality of massive open online courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education, 80, 77-83.
Merrill, M. D. (2002). First principles of instruction. Educational technology research and development, 50(3), 43-59.
Merrill, M.D. (2007). A task-centered instructional design. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(1), 33-50.

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