In recent years, MOOCs have developed rather negative connotations as a learning delivery platform: high attrition rate, middling rigor, heterogeneous student cohorts with widely varying skill levels and backgrounds, insufficient recognition of learning value, and an unsustainable “free” business model. Using a MOOC as a recruitment tool, rather than just a content delivery system, flips these MOOC “cons” to “pros.”

Strategy and implementation—our experience

The purpose of the MOOC was two-fold—to begin preparing learners for work in the field of global health, and to serve as a recruitment tool for a more comprehensive online Global Health Certificate Program.The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), University of Maryland University College (UMUC), and the University of Maryland System (UMS) collaboratively engaged in a MOOC development project using the edX platform. Earning a graduate-level certificate requires students to complete an accredited 12-credit program of study. A primary development goal of the Global Health MOOC was to make it both a useful recruitment tool and an engaging learning experience for all interested students.

After initial training by edX on the authoring tool, content experts, course developers, and marketing specialists teamed up to create a six-week course. Each week of the MOOC offered students a glimpse of one or more of the courses that make up the certificate program and also introduced students to the graduate faculty by means of brief video lectures. Each module required students to view several instructor video lectures, read some open educational resources (OERs), engage in an online discussion, and complete a set of knowledge-check questions. The rigor was purposely set at a moderate level, since the MOOC was accommodating a highly heterogeneous group.

The course launched with more than 800 students from over 100 countries (Figure 1). Eighty percent of participants had a college degree, and about half of those had a graduate or professional degree. From the start, only 32% of students actively participated in the course. Over the six-week span of the course, participation dropped to only 11%.