Design a MOOC: Danish perspectives on potentials and limitations

Summary of working paper.
This working paper regards a feasibility study on the potentials and limitations of MOOC (Massive Open Online Course, courses that are free and accessible to all). It questions what MOOCs might offer educators in Denmark, especially at Roskilde University as well as our collaborators (research partners, collaborating institutions) across Europe. The paper contains a literature review and interviews with selected academics with educational technology expertise. Various questions and themes emerged from the literature review and from the authors’ own participation in a few MOOCs, which informed the interviews.

Litterature Review

The literature review collates current trends in online and distance learning in light of historical developments, with special focus on MOOC as “platforms”. Given the hype about MOOCs in 2012 and quickly changing trends in MOOCs, we selected from the recent literature (2012-2015) and chose major academic contributors, such as Prof. George Siemens, who is known for highlighting differences between connectivist (cMOOCs) with focus on knowledge creation and generation, and behaviorist (xMOOCs) with focus on knowledge duplication. Beyond the cMOOC / xMOOC divide are discussions of MOOCs on a grander scale in terms of the learning; what is at stake regarding ideas on transforming higher education, and how to design for changing learning contexts.


The five interviewees and three experts that contributed with insights are situated mainly in Danish organizations. Half of the interviewees have experience with designing or instructing MOOCs. An expert from the German MOOC platform Iversity offered European perspectives on development. We conducted five semi-structured expert interviews.

  • Jørgen Lerche Nielsen (Associate Professor of ICT and Learning at Roskilde University, and instructor of Master of IT and Learning program, MIL, RUC)
  • Mikkel Hvidtfeldt Andersen (scient.soc., Research librarian,RUB, Roskilde University) has cooperated on
  • Jon Stewart (D., Dr. habil. theol. & phil. Associate Professor at Søren Kierkegaard Research Centre at the University of Copenhagen – lecturer of the Coursera MOOC ‘Søren Kierkegaard – Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity’)
  • Peter Bukovica Gundersen (Teacher at University College Zealand, specialist and developer at Education Lab on MOOCs)
  • Karen Siercke (scient.soc., Librarian, founder and CEO of youth media NGO Hygge Factory, partner in a 2014 research project proposal)

We carried out supplementary, informal interviews via Skype or in person with other researchers and educational developers who have made MOOCs and written on MOOCs.

  • Simon Heilesen (Associate Professor at The Department of Psychology and Educational Studies at Roskilde University, researcher in Learning without Borders project (Læring uden Grænser) with partners University College Zealand
  • Mikala Hansbøl, (d., Senior Researcher at University College Zealand)
  • Fabian Schumann (Head of Academic Partnerships, Iversity, Germany)


The interviews concern the pedagogical potentials and limitations of designing MOOCs, based on the interviewees’ own experiences, and generating ideas for future use (scenarios). The analysis has a critical focus on overall issues of participatory project-based pedagogy (in online spaces), and the impact of design for learning experiences. In broad strokes, MOOCs have potentials for creating interest and showcasing topics in higher education, but limitations in terms of establishing social interaction and reflection about learning unless integrated with other activities.

Application Areas

Insights from the feasibility study are meant as input to future participatory design with all stakeholders (including learners) in an iterative design process. The discussion includes design recommendations, in particular on the importance of high quality video. The pros and cons of MOOC platforms are outlined – whether to use mainstream platforms (such as Coursera, Iversity) or an assemblage of social media and open-source “learning environments” (such as Moodle with YouTube, Skype, chat forum program, etc.). Cost is discussed in terms of how Danish examples of MOOCs have been integrated in higher education, which is mainly free or low cost, e.g. very different than the USA. It is beyond the scope of this paper to define scenarios further, to specify MOOC design criteria, and to determine what it would cost to produce MOOC contents.

This paper contributes with background knowledge to support design efforts with MOOCs. It is inspired by Design Based Research methodology, which asserts that any educational technology should be considered in light of the dynamics of learning as a lifelong process, and the complexity of how learners interact with learning resources in a specific pedagogical and cultural context. We agree that understanding real-life context is important, and intend to focus on context in further research efforts.


The study was made possible by Designing Human Technologies a strategic research initiative at Roskilde University, Denmark. DHT supported research assistant Bojana Romic in fall, 2014. Thank you to all interviewees. Assoc. Prof. Jørgen Lerche Nielsen offered additional comments, ideas and historical perspectives. Assoc. Prof. Simon Heilesen and librarian Mikkel Hvidtfelt Andersen (Roskilde University Library) contributed insights from their experience and reports on making MOOCs (RUC and UC Zealand,, and participated as peer reviewers.


First author: Lisbeth Frølunde, Ph.D. Assoc. Prof. Roskilde University, Denmark. E:

Second author: Bojana Romic, Ph.D. Independent researcher, Denmark. E:

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