Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

MOOCs developed through GeorgetownX represent a new vision for higher education. In this open online space, students around the world can access a high-quality Georgetown learning experience. Since Georgetown University launched its partnership with edX in 2012, GeorgetownX has launched several massive open online courses (MOOCs) featuring Georgetown faculty. Many of those courses are relaunched in updated iterations.

Georgetown's roster of MOOC courses features the expertise of 36 university faculty representing 15 departments and programs. To date, our MOOCs have reached over 140,000 global students. You can view the current MOOC offerings on the highlighted course page

Who enrolls in MOOCs?

MOOC participants are generally not Georgetown students, but instead reflect a growing network of learners across the United States and around the globe. Among this diverse group of learners, participants often have different motivations for enrolling in these courses. Some students are interested in completing the course and getting a certificate, while others are interested in gaining exposure to a particular subject. While some students are looking to gain professional credentials that can help them in their careers, others are aiming to access college-level content for the first time.

The diversity of MOOC participants is part of the reason we initiated our exploration of this medium. Georgetown’s foray into open learning reflects its commitment to lifelong learning, as well as its commitment to providing learners around the world access to high-quality education.

What are some considerations for developing a MOOC?

Because the edX MOOC platform is flexible, with a growing body of tools and technologies to support course construction, developing a MOOC can provide a unique opportunity to reimagine your course in an entirely new medium. MOOCs tend to have much shorter runs than traditional semester-long courses; CNDLS can work with you to identify particular topics or modules to build out in the platform. And because you will have to consider a body of participants outside of the traditional Georgetown undergraduate or graduate student, we can help you experiment with innovative methods for adapting your pedagogical strategies to target a diverse network of learners.

CNDLS can help you throughout the development of a MOOC—from exploration and design to assessment and support after the MOOC launches. When working with our internal Georgetown team, you have direct access to designers and media specialists who have valuable expertise in developing MOOCs. Our team includes experts in course design, development, and evaluation with a combined 15 years of experience leading pedagogical research and design in online classrooms.

Through our experimentation with MOOCs, we also have begun developing our own research on learning process models and linguistic analysis within MOOCs to promote contemplative reading and active learning applications. You can learn more about the research that the CNDLS staff has undertaken on pedagogical practices related to online learning and MOOCs on the Research and Scholarship page.

What is the CNDLS design approach and methodology?

Given that open learning is different from formal learning in terms of student engagement, CNDLS takes a learning-design approach that enables these courses to be modular. We use a two-level model that allows learners to not only attain content-based goals but also gain integrative learning competencies. In addition, our MOOCs are designed to create reflective learning opportunities, use active learning applications, and promote contemplative reading. All of our MOOCs employ both innovative visual and technical elements with concrete learning applications so students can reflect on the knowledge presented and integrate it into their own lives.

The GeorgetownX (GUx) layered design approach supports the diversity of learners and takes into account that not all users want to complete a MOOC in its entirety. For those who are interested in specific topics within courses, the GUx design approach offers the opportunity to complete individual modules. This means that users can rebundle topics from more than one MOOC into integrative learning packages.

Nevertheless, the CNDLS learning design approach reinforces student motivation and aims to encourage all participants to complete each MOOC course. In partnership with faculty, we design engaging course content that uses storytelling as a mode. We ensure that enrolled students are supported at multiple levels through regular communication with course teams. And learners who complete and pass a MOOC can earn certificates that may help them advance their professional and educational goals.

Our process for MOOC development consists of four phases:

Exploratory Phase

During this phase, the CNDLS team helps you assess whether a MOOC is the right platform for bringing your course online. In this phase, we also discuss resources for MOOC production, including both costs and staff time. The exploratory phase can be broken down further into the pre-proposal discussion—before you have proposed a specific MOOC—and the post-proposal discussion.

  • Pre-proposal:

    In this stage, CNDLS helps you assess how your traditional course might be reimagined as a MOOC, determining the appropriate scope and depth of your course content. We will also begin to brainstorm how particular technologies and media tools could enhance your teaching practices in this space. The goals of these meetings are often to help faculty members refine a concrete MOOC proposal.

  • Post-proposal:

    Once a MOOC project has been approved, we will engage in more concrete strategic planning for the course to accomplish the following:

    • lay out a specific timeline for production and implementation
    • identify concrete learning goals for the course
    • determine the specific texts and other resources students will be assigned in order to begin the process of securing copyrighted material
    • outline a sample week of the course to establish clear expectations for both teaching and learning in this space

Design and Development

MOOC development is generally a 6–9 month process and involves significant collaboration with CNDLS staff. The course team includes instructional design professionals with teaching experience, developers with experience creating novel interactions for students, and media professionals who bring an understanding of pedagogical best practices in the online learning environment. Once we decide to initiate a MOOC project, we work closely with course teams to think through course structure and learning outcomes.

Over the course of the development process, the CNDLS team meets with you to refine and tailor the project around your specific learning objectives. Together we assess how to optimize online delivery of course content, as well as learning activities and assessments, to help you best engage your students in the MOOC platform. As much as possible, we encourage faculty to consider open resources for course readings to avoid often-costly copyright fees.

Since many of the considerations for designing a MOOC may be different than those you’ve experienced when teaching other courses in higher education, we will work with you to design and develop teaching practices to optimize learning in the MOOC space.

Teaching the Course

Teaching a MOOC can be an exciting and intensive experience, and often involves a team of faculty members and their teaching assistants. While you will develop many of the pedagogical elements of the course, such as lectures and other discussions, during the development phase of the MOOC, you may perform some instructional tasks during the MOOC’s run as well. Those tasks could include responding to discussion boards, holding virtual office hours, and addressing issues that come up during course implementation. Typically, teaching assistants and CNDLS support staff manage daily interaction with the course, but faculty members often have a significant presence during MOOC implementation.

If a MOOC is designed as a self-paced course—that is, it runs continually and is not implemented during a specific time frame, and all modules are available at the same time—then faculty involvement during the run may be less intensive.


Following a MOOC launch, CNDLS offers continual support to ensure that the implementation of the course runs smoothly. After a MOOC finishes its run, we help faculty consider what changes may need to be made for future iterations, including transitioning the MOOC into a self-paced course with less intensive faculty participation. We also assess the course analytics that edX provides to better understand user participation and make appropriate adjustments for future iterations.

Schedule a consultation

MOOC projects are initiated through consultations between interested faculty and CNDLS experts in learning design and approved through a review process that considers how the project aligns with the goals of GeorgetownX and the potential audiences that may be served. If you are interested in exploring opportunities in the MOOC platform, contact