How Can Massive Open Online Courses Become Socially Contagious

Having just finished up the second round of ELT-Techniques on Jason R. Levine’s ELT MOOC in 2013, I feel it’s time to share some honest insights about the experience before we step into another New Year where all of us will be re-examining goals, priorities and values at work.


The thing that struck me most about the ELT MOOC is the same phenomenon I noticed when I was socially active in teaching and inspiring students and teachers directly on Facebook. The phenomenon can be described as social contagion. MOOCs are not just about expertise and tech-savvy geekdom. They are more about sociability, humanism and connectivity in all its connotations. If we experience MOOCS from a focused, yet social perspective, then we just know that MOOCS can be natural, fun, inspiring, influential forms of learning and sharing.

Authenticity and Visibility inspire Synchronicity

To start off with, it’s important to note that social networks are powerful components of any massive open online course. I have experienced the ups and downs of social networks for three years and have engaged in discussions with some cutting-edge leaders in the field about whether social networks can help or hinder online teachers. While we all agree that social networks alone may not be conducive to growing a private tutoring business as such (apart from making your name and developing your brand), I have conversely experienced the collective power of sharing knowledge on massive scales. This is all about harnessing the social power of learning.

We could delve deeply into the area of social learning from anthropological, psychological, evolutionary, political, or pedagogical perspectives, but then we’d get lost and not see the woods for the trees.

This article is going to be a very simple kind of ‘show and tell’. The video below shows us what inspired collaboration looks like when there is some fun, expertise, and like-minded inspiration thrown into the mix.

Maximise presentation to full screen for best effect.

ELT MOOC Rap song by Fluency MC aka Jason. R. Levine.
Lip dub by Shelly Terrell.
Prezi by Sylvia Guinan.


Authenticity means sharing who you really are both professionally and with regard to your teaching values. This serves to shed light on who you are as a person.

From a social networking point of view, this means that you need to be smart in how you engage people online. The best way is the open way. Share what you are learning about, thinking about, reading about, and following. Create and share with other teachers in your network. Take time out from your own creativity to explore and appreciate what other teachers are doing. The is the only way to grow, connect and refine your own voice online. Think about what you do best. Then focus on your best and share it everywhere. According to the 80/20 principle, if you spend 20% of your time on what you do best, then you’ll get 80% of your results. When you realise that social networks thrive on the ‘viral effect’, this advice will seem all the more poignant.


What is synchronicity?

Carl Jung discovered the phenomenon of synchronicity, which in layman’s terms comes across as ‘meaningful coincidence’. This was before mirror neurons were discovered, of course. Whatever synchronicitiy may be, it’s fun to experience it in MOOCS as a spookily inspiring phenomenon. To see what I mean, you’ll have to take part in a future MOOC to get spooked ;)

Perhaps you can judge the power of a MOOC by the number of meaningful coincidences that actually occur through online collaboration. The nature of a MOOC means that your collaborators will be those whom you admire, learn from and have fun collaborating with. That’s where the energy, inspiration and will to surpass oneself comes from. As we connect online, we experience the ‘mirror neuron’ effect where we all tune in with each other and become more empathetic. That’s when one thing leads to another. One tiny idea is picked up by someone else and expanded upon, then this becomes a global project.

A fun moment for me was when Sean Banville challenged us to create multi-media news reports for Breaking English News on the topic of teaching and technology. The fun part was the feeling of being a real journalist live online preparing the news report in ten minutes flat. It was a fun, adrenalin-filled challenge and very exciting to be creating something with Sean Banville. I ran straight to my Eduglogster to create my news report, which is now on the Breaking English News website.


When you truly reach people in a personal and socially contagious way, then visibility will take on a life of its own. There’s no point in having the best online course if people never get to peep inside and see what you are doing. This article will give you some nice examples of visibility. The impetus takes off when participants in courses are inspired to share their own experiences online . They do this in personal, spontaneous ways because they want to. It’s much more fun than a list of testimonials on a website front page – it’s breaking news, word of mouth, it’s fun, feedback, validation, appreciation, peer-to-peer reflection – it’s the heart of the MOOC blossoming online for the world to see.

Here are some examples of participants sharing work, inspiration and ideas online.

Wanessa at the board

Wanessa Williams is a vibrant teaching personality who inspires colleagues on social networks through professional development, networking and sharing her own creative materials online. I asked her about her experience with the ELT MOOC.

1) How has the ELT MOOC benefited you as a teacher?

This ELT-MOOC has been the most transformative professional experience I’ve ever had, and it really deserves deep appreciation, especially for the inexhaustible work, dedication and passion offered by the entire MOOC team.

2) Would you say that MOOC participants can extend their own professional influence through learning from, sharing with and networking with online teachers in their field?

Indubitably, the ELT-MOOC has brought great benefits to all of us, not only in terms of professional development, but also when we’re speaking of humanizing the learning experience through the collaborative spirit on online communities. Being immersed in a friendly professional online environment with people from different cultures who represent a world away with diverse visions of life, where all barriers disappear, and everybody feels comfortable sharing ideas and growing together is really essential for the success of the whole educational community.

How does global collaboration transform one’s mindset?

It’s a great experience capable of changing the way we normally see our role as teachers by encouraging us to reach beyond and see that the learning/teaching process can/must be truly inspirational; we should be open to innovation and collaboration to enhance the learning experience and make it more meaningful and motivational; when we experience results like that, it doesn’t matter if we win the battle “on the cloud” or on the ground.


The nature of massive open online courses is that they are experimental, built around networks and there can be no prescriptive rights and wrongs. Leaders and facilitators must be humble enough to know that everything is shared and everyone is learning. They must also be brave enough to try new things, even if it goes against the current tide or accepted, even fossilised ‘trends’ or ‘standards’ in education.

As 2013 closes, I’m happy to say that on January 31st I read words of wisdom that will give me courage for 2014. I’m sharing these words here so that all of us will feel this courage.

“Today, the most professional teachers I know do not often teach in universities, publish paradigm-shifting textbooks, write many academic articles, or strive to do much more than become great teachers while actively encouraging their peers to do the same. They openly share what they’re learning on blogs and social media posts. They voluntarily serve as mentors to newer teachers with the idea that by doing so they’ll be learning something new about teaching as well. They initiate collaborative projects that they invite others to join as equals, get involved in initiatives like ELTChat and organizations like iTDi, and enthusiastically embrace opportunities to grow professionally. My new heroes are the teachers who exemplify this spirit of a new home-cooked professionalism and often write of it so beautifully as James Taylor does here his blog post entitled Just Say Yes”

Chuck Sandy.

Here is the full article.


It’s important to be clear about who does what, and to appreciate where strong contributions come from. There is no room for ego or control in a MOOC. There is only room for allowing a mixture of spontaneous contributions and some focused delegation. We still have much to learn about delegation, and we will continue to build the frameworks for what we hope will become a self-organising social haven of self-expression and peer-to-peer connectivity online.

Here is an example of a small token of appreciation that became popular on facebook. A little bit of soul goes a long way.

Don’t analyse MOOCS, be open and your course will be too – because that’s how people connect. The SOUL of the MOOC belongs to those who care to share, namely the facilitators.



Not all ELT MOOC ambitions have been fully realised this time around. The MOOC is an ongoing process of adaptation and improvement, however, and a lot will be done in 2014 in the months leading up to the March MOOC.

This kind of work is not measured per hour, but the benefits we hope to reap through innovation could change everything.

Special thanks to our global networks of educators. Wishing everyone fresh perspectives and inspiration for 2014.

Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”
― Alfred Tennyson


is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.


  1. Such a wonderful blog, Sylvia! I loved the idea of “home-cooked professionalism” — there’s something wonderful about speaking from home whether the home is your home office, your most true place in terms of what you know, what you want to share, what you’re ready to hear, what you’re ready to teach. I love the emphasis on authenticity too; us with all our failures and foibles. I really hoped to be fully involved in the MOOC this time but will be trailing behind watching the videos. You guys did a marvelous job. I aspire to do as well when Nellie, Doris and I get the Second Life MOOC going in April. Phew! Great blog! Great job on the ELT Mooc too!

  2. Loved it, Sylvia. Happy New Year!!!!

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