Making the Most of MOOCs: An Interview with Curt Bonk and Meina Zhu


Curt Bonk is Professor in the School of Education at Indiana University (IU) teaching psychology and technology courses and Adjunct in the School of Informatics at IU. He teaches and researches at the intersection of educational psychology and educational technology. Prof. Dr. Bonk is a well-known keynote speaker and conference organizer within the AACE community and beyond, whose passion for open education is inspiring to everyone he comes in contact with. In his words:

“It’s my life goal to help people become more self-directed in their learning pursuits. because there are all untold open educational resources all around us, and we can access them on our mobile phones. We have access to educational opportunities that our parents and grandparents did not have access to.”

Meina Zhu is Assistant Professor of Learning Design & Technology at Wayne State University. She teaches classes on effective instructional design, UI/UX, mobile and interactive technologies, videos and game-based learning. Her research interests comprise online education, self-directed learning, STEM education, and learning analytics.

Prof. Dr. Meina Zhu’s connection to learning with MOOCs is a personal one:

“When I was in China I tried to improve my English skills. So I went to Coursera to learn. And because I think I personally benefitted from these courses, it led to the question how can we design open courses to help learners learn better.” 

15 effective strategies to support self-directed online learning

Together, the two researchers have conducted many studies on open educational practices, open educational resources and learning and teaching in MOOCs. A recent publication delineates 15 effective strategies to support self-directed online learning in MOOCs that align with Universal  Design for Learning (UDL) – see Zhu & Bonk (2022):

  1. Helping students set their own learning goals
  2. Encouraging learners to make plans
  3. Offering flexible timelines
  4. Highlighting estimated time frames
  5. Embedding tasks and activities to form a learning community
  6. Supplying timely and constructive feedback
  7. Embedding quizzes for self-assessment
  8. Crafting visuals showing work progress and tasks completed
  9. Providing reflection questions
  10. Designing time-sensitive learning units
  11. Making available optional learning materials and self-selection options
  12. Creating a structured learning environment, including weekly overviews
  13. Making sure lectures are recorded and captions added
  14. Inserting application exercises for putting the course material into practice
  15. Using gamification to support self-directed learning

Studying Self-Directed Online Learning with MOOCs in Nepal

In the interview for AACE Review we talked about their latest endeavor. The researchers embarked on a project studying Nepal middle school and high school students learning English and other subjects via MOOCs during and after the pandemic. They conducted interviews with both teachers and students and are currently analyzing the data.

Takeaways from the researchers:

  • Meina Zhu: “it’s very exciting to listen to these young people describe how they became interested in all these different topics from Egyptian history to leadership to Python programing, to wellness to history of ancient Rome”.
  • Curt Bonk: “If it can be replicated in other parts of the world, then we really have something that can help with diversity, equity and inclusion”.

Watch the full conversation.

To learn more about the potential for open education and innovative ideas in the international community tune into the podcast Silver Lining for Learning (SLL). SLL is an ongoing conversation on the future of learning with educators and education leaders from across the globe.

References and Material

Khoo, E., & Bonk, C. (2022). Motivating and Supporting Online Learners. Commonwealth of Learning. Course ( and E-Book:

Zhu, M., & Bonk, C. J. (2022). Guidelines and strategies for fostering and enhancing self-directed online learning. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 1-17.

Zhu, M., Bonk, C. J., & Berri, S. (2022). Fostering Self-Directed Learning in MOOCs: Motivation, Learning Strategies, and Instruction. Online Learning26(1).

Zhu, M. (2022). Designing and delivering MOOCs to motivate participants for self-directed learning. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 1-20.

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