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UF/IFAS Faculty Launches New Approach to Massive Open Online Courses with University of Nebraska-Lincoln Collaborators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. –  Discussion boards in a traditional Massive Open Online Course, or MOOC, look like most discussion boards on the internet: unorganized threads with contributors from all different perspectives piling on to a topic. Participating in the conversation—or just scrolling through it—can be overwhelming.

So University of Florida and University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers teamed up to find a solution to the overload. On February 25, they will launch a project they call MOOCocracy – a social learning democracy. In a MOOCocracy IDEA (informed discussion for effective action), discussions are organized by attitudes, and there are other improvements to the traditional MOOC framework.

The project is conducted through the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) in collaboration with UNL.

Jamie Loizzo, an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS department of agricultural education and communication, co-leads this online project called MOOCocracy. The first MOOCocracy engagement is called “Introduction to Food Insecurity”.

“With a traditional MOOC, there are thousands of participants,” Loizzo said. “It is easy to get lost in the discussion. With our new technologies, we are trying to get our learners to identify their own goals and seek out perspectives that will help them learn more about food insecurity.”

The MOOCocracy project aims to leverage MOOCs as learner-centered social democracies and to enhance engagement around global social issues. The MOOCocracy team has developed three new technology integrations to expand online learning:

  1. a learner-centered dashboard for tracking participation and individual goal-setting,
  2. a customized discussion board focused on investigating others’ attitudes and positions, and
  3. a community knowledge-building space for sharing multimedia projects and resources.

“Traditional MOOCs focus on learning, but don’t necessarily foster action,” said Lisa PytlikZillig, project co-lead and researcher at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center. “The MOOCocracy concept fosters learning for the purpose of formulating actions that communities might implement to solve social problems.”

These new tools address frequent MOOC criticisms, such as low completion rates, top-down goal-setting, overwhelming discussion boards and lack of facilliator presence.

“We are excited to pilot the MOOCocracy tools around the important topic of food insecurity,” said Loizzo. “The ultimate goal of MOOCocracy is to create online communities where people can engage around global social issues; share attitudes, ideas and information; and collaboratively identify and mobilize around solutions. We believe our new technologies take the first few steps in that direction.”

The research team also involves University of Nebraksa-Lincoln computer science and engineering professor Leen-Kiat Soh, who has expertise in computer-aided education systems and intelligent data analytics.

“Once we have the pilot data, we can use it to begin to understand how people engage, and then create additional tools to help people engage even more successfully,” Soh said. “These data-driven tools can help people find others with similar goals, or even help people expand their worldviews by connecting people with different knowledge or attitudes so they can learn from one another.”

MOOCocracy has potential impacts for adult learners, non-profit organizations and Extension efforts. The project will have positive implications for engaging public and adult learners in solutions-focused online learning and global community building.

The MOOCocracy project is partially funded by UNL’s Food for Health Collaboration Initiative and UF/IFAS Research. Anyone interested in participating in the “Introduction to Food Insecurity” MOOCocracy engagement can register for free at The course will last five weeks from Feb. 25 through March 29.


The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) administers the degree programs of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The mission of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is to deliver unsurpassed educational programs that prepare students to address the world’s critical challenges related to agriculture, food systems, human wellbeing, natural resources and sustainable communities. The college has received more total (national and regional combined) USDA teaching awards than any other institution. Visit the CALS website at, and follow CALS on social media platforms at @ufcals.