Sunday, February 3, 2013

What MOOC designers can learn from online dating

When I attend a course or event there are three types of people I want to meet:
  1. people I have something in common with (to share ideas on a particular topic), 
  2. people I want to have something in common with (they know about a topic that interests me and I want to learn more about), and 
  3. people who have knowledge and skills that complement mine (who may be interested in collaborating on projects).
In a room of 30 people, the facilitator usually gets everyone to introduce themselves, which means I can identify people who fit into my three types. Even if there are no introductions, it is a manageable size to get to know a bit about each other during breaks.

In a room of 200 (a lecture, a conference) this becomes much more challenging, and I have to rely on my own networks within the room (if I have any) to introduce me to people who fit into my three types.

In a virtual room with 100,000+ people, the exercise becomes near impossible.

The growth of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) provides wonderful opportunities for learners to access quality content with minimal barriers to entry. But how – amongst so many participants - can I identify those I want to connect with?

“Introduce yourself” discussion boards become overwhelming with tens of thousands of posts. Even adding tags (eg: areas of interest) results in thousands of people with vaguely similar interests.

I can view others’ activity in the MOOC – their posts, blogs, assignments (if peer review is being used) – but again volume is an issue.

So what I want is for MOOC designers to help me find the people I want to connect with.

Give me a profiling tool. A tool that allows me to outline my knowledge and areas of expertise, areas that I am interested in and want to know more about, and the knowledge and expertise I am seeking for collaborative projects. Then send me suggestions of people I may want to meet. Show me what they wrote about themselves on the profiling tool.

Help me find my three types of people so we can meet up for a coffee (real or virtual), and further explore our mutual interests.

It may seem a bit like online dating, but haven’t education and dating always gone hand-in-hand?



  1. Great post, Anne-Marie! I find the same thing at conferences - all these people with nametags milling around but how do I know which ones I want to sit next to during the morning tea performance by the local drumming group? I love the way that the 'Genius' tool on iTunes offers suggestions for me......wonder if we can get the equivalent of a MatchMaking Genius into these things?

  2. Great tips Anne-Marie. I'm gong to consider the types of people I want to meet with in my new role. It's pretty daunting when you're in a large room not knowing who to speak with first!