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ATD Blog

Moderating a Social MOOC

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) come in all sizes and shapes, and a very special one is the Social MOOC. In this blog we will have a look at some issues to consider while moderating MOOCs based on social learning. In May we hope to meet you at our session at ATD 2018, 7 Moderating Moves to Get Your Social MOOC Swinging. For now, we’ll give a sneak preview into what it takes to moderate a Social MOOC.

What Makes a MOOC Social?

In a Social MOOC, participants are active and essential contributors. Every chunk of content (usually curated and bite-sized) is accompanied by a thought-provoking question. This question is meant to help participants digest the content and to translate it to their own situation. Participants are encouraged to share their answers; research indicates that formulating and sharing answers leads to deeper thinking.

Experience shows that participants enjoy reading comments and believe this is a great way to find and link with colleagues working on similar issues. Moderating Social MOOCs requires specific behaviors from moderators. They are the ones to spark social interactions and keep the fire burning as the MOOC progresses.

What Does It Take to Moderate a Social MOOC?

In a Social MOOC, unlike other MOOCs, the moderator should practice servant leadership: Everything you do should be directed to activate the thinking of participants and to encourage the sharing and appreciation of their insights. Here are some steps you can take to accomplish this:

Be prepared to let go. For the moderator, the participants’ posts on the platform are the most important source of information on the prevailing mood. Far more difficult to gauge are the opinions of the silent participants—those who participate but do not post anything. Learning analytics tells you they are active, but you have no way of knowing what they are hoping to gain or how they are experiencing the MOOC. This requires the moderator have both faith and the ability to let go.


Practice appreciative inquiry. Take every contribution seriously, including negative ones. Ask participants to explain their contributions. Interesting nuances often emerge. Be on the lookout for diverging ideas; they spark the more interesting discussions. By appreciating divergent ideas, you invite other participants to step out of their comfort zone.

Let participants choose their own path. For some participants, according to our survey, the format or content of the MOOC was simply not appealing enough. Others indicated having achieved their objectives without needing to complete the entire MOOC. For this reason, we are hesitant to label participants who quit the course before its official end as ‘dropouts’. After all, in a MOOC emphasizing the autonomy of the participants, those participants make their own choices: What am I going to spend my time on and what not?


Enjoy it! The large number of participants and the lively discussions on the platform of the Social MOOCs we participated in and moderated seemed to cause seniority and status to fall away. L&D professionals of all levels, backgrounds, and contexts came together in a spirit of equality. Combined with the open and positive attitude we sought to take in moderating the platform, this made for a fertile environment for social learning. For many, a Social MOOC proved to be a surprising and inspiring experience, to which we are happy and proud we were able to contribute.

We look forward to sharing more with you during our session, 7 Moderating Moves to Get Your Social MOOC Swinging in May.

Want to swing beforehand? Join, and feel free to add to, our Spotify playlist 7Moves, with a growing number of moderating move-related songs!

About the Author

Petra Peeters is a university lecturer at HAN University of Applied Sciences at Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Main skills: Consulting, Change Management, implementation of Blended Learning, designing & moderating Social Learning. 20+ years of experience as L&D professional/manager in international companies (e.g. Sara Lee) as trainer and consultant. Member of various (inter)national networks. International Speaker (Co)writer of several articles aimed at practitioners rather than the academic world. Meet me at

About the Author

Marlo Kengen MSc is an experienced Learning & Development professional with a history of working in higher education as well as corporate settings (business services and ICT). Marlo is a senior lecturer in the undergraduate program on Learning & Development at HAN University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. She is a strong educational science professional focused on curriculum development, strategic L&D and learning technologies. She regularly publishes in Dutch L&D magazines.

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