Plotting Your Course on Coursera

MSU's page on Coursera.
By Alyssa Bradley, Nick Noel, with contributions from Emily Brozovic, Angela Martin, and Gerald Rhead

If you’ve read our previous Coursera post (MOOCs and MSU) then you know that Michigan State University has had great success on the Coursera platform. This success is not only from a revenue generation standpoint, but also in the discoveries that instructors have made about their own teaching and the students they teach.

We at the Hub have also found the experience to be valuable. It has informed our thinking on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) in general, as well as the practice of preparing and producing learning experiences for Coursera specifically. As we are hoping to engage with many more campus partners in the coming months and years, we thought it would be useful to explain our current observations and strategies on creating an excellent Coursera course.

Vision and Goals

In the initial planning stage of every course, we look towards the instructors and departments to hear why they are interested in developing a Coursera course. During these consultations, we typically try not to interject our own agendas and opinions into the process. Instead, this should be a conversation among members of the department, prior to the design and development process. These conversations should be alignment focused, making sure that everyone involved has the same vision and goals. Common reasons for creating a Coursera course have varied from promoting the department to experimenting with online learning. Whatever the specific reason, it’s critical to have these conversations in order to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

As a note, financial considerations are surely an important factor to consider for these courses. However, we recommend having other goals in addition to financial ones. Revenue generation, like any business venture, is never a guarantee. Additionally, we have noticed that courses created beyond the financial considerations tend to be more successful, both in terms of student engagement and, ironically, revenue.

Know what success means

After the department and faculty goals are determined, the next stp is to discuss what a successful course looks like, and make sure that there are measurable components within that discussion. Do you have goals for the number of students to take the course, or for professional development? Perhaps you want to see if the course helps increase awareness for a particular field of study? As previously noted, part of this measurement could be financial, but it shouldn’t be the only component. We have observed that (in addition to vision) preparation, commitment, and personalization are all key pieces that make up a successful course.

Planning and Process

We recommend that all instructors consult with Hub staff as they are developing their course. For many, this is a completely new process and there is great value in consulting with a team that is used to the nuances. Additionally, staff can assist with the logistics of budgeting and production planning. The level of Hub involvement can be adjusted based on need, but having that connection is still a important component.

When planning on how to structure your course, we and Coursera recommend building courses around practical application and “real world” skills. The majority of students on Coursera are working professionals, which means that technology, business, and data analytics are some of the top searched skills. Additionally, this creates some great opportunities to fill needs in less populated careers, such as the arts. MSU’s Game Design and Development course has seen great results on Coursera for this reason.


MSU has done a good job creating quality course videos and materials. However, there’s always room for improvement, and we are always happy to create video and other materials that best fit the vision of your course. As you are developing your course, consider using materials that go beyond the standard PowerPoint slide. Search for interesting examples, and see if there are ways that they could be adapted for your course. For helpful strategies on creating engaging video content, read our two previous posts Why Choose Video? Part 1 and Part 2.

The types of materials, and how we use them, are different from a online course through MSU as compared to one through Coursera. Because of this difference, it’s important to make sure that the media you use is cleared on copyright as well.

What to expect

Once you and your department have developed a strong vision and plan for your potential course, a meeting will be held with the Instructional Designer to go over the basics. A plan is submitted to Coursera for review, and once that plan is accepted full development can begin. More meetings are held with the designer to work through optimizations and course objectives, and the Media Production Specialist to discuss timeline, budget, and any needed video content. The course is then created, filmed, edited, and submitted for beta testing to Coursera. After any final changes it’s ready for launch.

If you want to learn more about the Coursera process or have any questions, feel free to reach out to us.