It is this middle layer where we should focus our attention. This layer consists of groups: NGOs and non-profits, local teachers and their classes, or even more informal gatherings.
One strategy is for MOOCs to partner directly with interested organizations, who form a ready-made constituency for a class. Content and exercises could be shaped for those partners, who would be in much closer communication with the instructor than the average MOOC student.
Another strategy is for MOOCs to provide tools to students to self-organize into discussion groups. For example, a non-profit might decide to convene its staff for regular training sessions, where the offices signs up for a MOOC together, completing weekly exercises and discussing the salient topics of each lecture. Or even more informally, you and your neighbors down the street might meet for tea on Sundays, and you could also sign up for a MOOC and watch videos together.
This kind of group approach yields multiple benefits. First of all, greater interactivity gets the students to think through the issues by engaging in active discussion. Students must make arguments based on logic and evidence, and will be forced to present and defend those arguments. In a group setting, they are also exposed to more diverse viewpoints.
Second, groups increase a student's commitment: a student has a greater likelihood of sticking with the class if it's not just him or herself sitting in front of the computer and deciding whether to do the weekly assignment or not. We've all been there: it's much easier to procrastinate and delay if you're only accountable to yourself. In contrast, if you have others encouraging and reminding you of your common endeavor (whether it's a workout buddy or a prayer circle), it's harder to put the task aside. There's simply more incentive to keep going if you're committed to a group of friends or colleagues who are also taking the same course.
Finally, it presents a chance to strengthen bonds among people interested in the issues. By building these bonds of trust through shared experience and open dialogue, local networks are formed and could even potentially spark civic or community action. It lays the groundwork for future agents of change.
While version 1.0 of MOOCs has focused on video lectures and accompanying tools as the main form of class, I encourage future courses to engage the broad middle that has thus far been neglected. It represents the next step forward as online education continues to evolve, and it gives us a lot of fertile ground to explore.