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Northwestern MOOCs

Northwestern now offers all of its massive open online courses (MOOCs) at no cost to its students, alumni, faculty, and staff. You can now earn a Course Certificate, and access all Northwestern MOOC content on Coursera free of charge! To enroll in a Northwestern course and activate the special free course certificate offer, please follow the enrollment steps listed HERE.

The benefits of earning a Course or Specialization Certificate include:

Northwestern was one of the first universities to offer MOOCs and continues to engage global audiences in its MOOCs. Northwestern instructors are encouraged to experiment with MOOCs as a way of testing new modes of teaching and learning. A variety of free online courses are offered by Northwestern. Additional courses will be featured as faculty members develop new online strategies for delivering their course content to a global audience. Northwestern MOOCs can now be offered through the Coursera or Canvas Network platforms.

MOOC Proposals

MOOC proposals are now accepted as part of the Provost's Digital Learning Fellowship.

Interested faculty should refer to the FAQs for Coursera MOOCs below for more detailed information about MOOCs and the proposal process, as well as the MOOC Creation Guidelines for guidance on the development and delivery of MOOCs.  Faculty are invited to consult with the Coordinated Service Center for online courses at any point in the process of proposing or developing a MOOC by emailing

Report on Northwestern's first MOOCs

Northwestern conducted an analysis of the first cohort of MOOCs, developed and launched in 2013 - 2014. The resulting report assesses Northwestern’s overall strategy for MOOCs, and considers the benefits gained and implications as the University moves ahead with this initiative. Read the report on Northwestern's first MOOCs.


Why is Northwestern becoming involved in developing MOOCs?

The primary goals of engaging in the development and delivery of MOOCs are to:

  • Allow faculty and the university to explore new pedagogical and course delivery methods
  • Promote and support innovative efforts by faculty to develop and deliver online courses
  • Provide access to meaningful learning opportunities, without geographical or financial restrictions, to non-traditional students, current students and alumni, and those who currently have limited access to higher education
  • Evaluate learning outcomes from new modes of education
  • Expand the visibility and impact of Northwestern and its faculty
  • Showcase what is special about Northwestern’s faculty, research and curriculum
  • Help shape the evolution of higher education

What is a MOOC?

A MOOC is a massive open online course designed to reach a broad audience around the world.

  • MOOCs typically enroll thousands of students, though not all complete the course
  • MOOCs do not count for Northwestern credit (but credit may be granted by other institutions for NU MOOCs)
  • Anyone with an internet connection can take a MOOC, generally for free
  • Northwestern faculty can offer a MOOC through Northwestern’s partnership with Coursera

What is Coursera?

Coursera was founded in April 2012 by Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng, two Stanford University computer science professors.  Coursera offers courses developed by faculty from leading private and public universities to anyone around the world who has internet access with no cost associated with the courses.  Students who complete courses do not receive Northwestern credit.

Why should I develop a MOOC with Coursera?

With the recent rise of MOOCs, there are several platforms or companies offering MOOCs. Northwestern has chosen to partner with Coursera to give our faculty the opportunity to experiment with innovative teaching methods and reach broad audiences. Faculty who develop Coursera MOOCs will receive technical and instructional support from the University throughout the conceptualization, development and assessment of the MOOC. They will also be able to utilize informational resources provided by Coursera based on the experience of other institutions, as well as build on the lessons learned by other Northwestern faculty offering Coursera MOOCs. MOOC development through the NU-Coursera partnership will emphasize assessment of individual MOOCs and Northwestern’s MOOC offerings as a whole as well as measurement of the impact and learning outcomes of the MOOCs. These metrics will enable the University to further refine its MOOC strategy and approach to online and blended learning.

Where can I find support for MOOC development?

A coordinated approach will be implemented to help ensure that we are most effectively and efficiently enabling faculty to develop high-quality MOOCs.  This approach will consist of a Coordinated Service Center providing a centralized point of contact and coordination for faculty seeking assistance and support in developing distance online learning initiatives.  This approach leverages the existing skills and relationships that exist on campus by coordinating the respective talents and programs of the traditional support units (SPS, Searle Center, NUIT, Library, Schools).

The Coordinated Service Center will work closely with the Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup to ensure that Northwestern is showcasing high-quality MOOCs. To consult with or contact the Coordinated Service Center, please contact

The School of Professional Studies and Teaching & Learning Technologies (within NUIT)  will be primary sources for supporting faculty in the development and delivery of MOOCs for the Coursera platform; others within the University will also serve as a resource in this manner, including school-based support, the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching and the University Library Digital Collections.

Will a MOOC require approval?

Proposals for MOOCs must have approval from the faculty member’s respective dean’s office and will be reviewed by the Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup.  The Office of the Provost will serve as a point of review, coordination, and final approval for all MOOCs that are created.

What is the process for developing a MOOC?

workflow for developing a MOOC

A text version of the process depicted in the graphic above is available.

What are the characteristics of a successful MOOC?

Northwestern’s partnership with Coursera will enable Northwestern’s faculty to explore and experiment with online pedagogical methods to innovate and improve their teaching and enable Northwestern University to extend its outreach to students, current and new.  To help Northwestern faculty members create successful Coursera proposals, the Faculty Distance Learning Workgroup has developed the following broad set of characteristics for what Northwestern hopes to accomplish with its MOOCs.

Teaching – Online Pedagogy
  • A course offered by an instructor interested in using an online course to research the effectiveness of online teaching and learning
  • A course that pushes the MOOC model and/or Coursera platform, e.g. by integrating new tools or using teaching strategies not common in existing MOOCs
  • A course that would help the faculty member experiment with different pedagogies to improve teaching in this field
  • A course what would help the faculty member experiment with different pedagogies to improve teaching in a bricks and mortar classroom
  • A course that would allow the faculty member to experiment with newer pedagogies to improve teaching and course materials in a field where the material is difficult to teach using traditional methods
Learning – Reaching Current, New And Different Students
  • A course that would provide a meaningful learning opportunity for students world wide, including students who don’t currently have access to higher learning, non-traditional students, and even alumni
  • A course that would provide students with life-changing skills or improve their opportunities for employment, expand their access to cultural capital, and/or enrich their lives.
Visibility – Northwestern As An Educational Leader And Preeminent Research University
  • A course that would represent what is special about NU’s faculty and its curriculum and/or a course that showcases a faculty member’s eminence in the field

What role will faculty play in development and delivery of a MOOC?

Once a course is selected for development, the faculty member works with the Coordinated Service Center as needed to develop the MOOC. The course will be posted in a test environment a month before it is scheduled to launch. The faculty member is then responsible for teaching the course over the agreed to timeframe.

Interested faculty members are encouraged to read MOOC Creation Guidelines developed by the Coordinated Service Center. For further insight into the Coursera platform, please contact for access to materials on the Coursera platform describing the MOOC production process and options available.