Scaling up an online course to deal with 12,000 students

Weller, Martin and Robinson, Ley (2002). Scaling up an online course to deal with 12,000 students. Education, Communication and Information, 1(3) pp. 307–323.



A web-based course with tutorial support provided via computer conferencing was developed at the UK Open University and piloted with 850 students. The following year, the course was scaled up to accept a student cohort of over 12,000. This article addresses the issues that operating on such a large scale raises for educators. The course team aimed to maintain an intimate, personal experience for students and tutors, whilst establishing industrial scale support systems. The issues identified are categorised as tutor, student and course team ones. The nature of the support for the 600 tutors on the course and the new roles required of them are described. The conferencing structure necessary to provide a valuable learning environment for students is also detailed. In addition, the new roles, responsibilities and working methods that the course team needed to develop are outlined. The authors suggest that although there is much talk about the 'massification' of knowledge in education, there is considerable time, effort and resource required in providing large-scale online courses. If the student experience is to be meaningful and satisfactory, then the cost of implementing the necessary support structures may well negate any savings made elsewhere, such as in the distribution and reproducibility of material.

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