Redefining the “C” in MOOC from “Course” to “Community”: The Design, Implementation, and Evolution of

This is the abstract for a presentation I’ve been invited to give in September at the International Music Institutes Leadership Forum (IMILF) to be held at the China Conservatory in Beijing as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. I’ll be speaking about the design, implementation and evolution of our Play With Your Music online course and community.

Redefining the “C” in MOOC from “Course” to “Community”: The Design, Implementation, and Evolution of

S. Alex Ruthmann, PhD
Associate Professor of Music Education & Music Technology
Director, NYU Music Experience Design Lab (
NYU Steinhardt Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions

Play With Your Music (PWYM) is an open, online music community originally launched in Fall 2013 as a collaborative research project between NYU Steinhardt, the MIT Media Lab, and Peer2Peer University (P2PU). This project focuses on how to create and sustain high quality learning experiences in massive online courses through experience design and use of free to low-cost methods of connecting learners with multimedia content from across the Internet and each other as peer-teachers and learners.

The first iteration of PWYM (Nov. – Dec. 2013) was implemented as a modular online course to be taken over seven weeks, and focused on the teaching the creative processes of audio engineers and producers through project experiences in critical listening, recording analysis, multi-track recording balancing and mixing, and remixing with audio and MIDI. The 5300+ participants were grouped into “learning ensembles” for peer support and collaboration based on similarities in musical taste. Course content was delivered to participants via email groups, and Google+ and were used as the platforms for sharing course materials and music created throughout the course. More information on PWYM 1.0 can be found in our online report at

The second iteration of PWYM (May 2014 to present) shifted in design from a course to that of a community. Using, we created an online community for PWYM at and created a structure that allowed anyone to sign up for the music production learning pathway at any time, rather than during a specific time window. This structure helps keep the community active with new projects being posted all the time as new people join and complete projects within the learning pathways. When participants finish through the initial pathway, many stay engaged as curious observers and mentors. This iteration has seen over 7500 participants interacting through self-created and sustained sub-communities.

The current version of PWYM added international recording artist Peter Gabriel as a collaborating partner in that he provided multi-track recordings to two of his famous songs Sledgehammer and In Your Eyes for participants to mix and remix for free. Future plans for PWYM include rebranding the current music production content as “Play With Your Audio,” and introducing new content in music theory and creating music for moving images.

Our approach to PWYM eschewed the common MOOC practice of taking a pre-existing college-level music course, creating videos of lecture content, and sharing that on the web. Instead, we began by considering the following questions:

  • What can we teach well about and through music online?
  • What music content is not already easily accessible or present online?
  • What are free technologies for online music learning and making that can be leveraged for this course to provide access to a large number of people?
  • How can we design course experiences to engage participants as peer-learners and mentors?
  • What technologies and community designs can be implemented to support participants with diverse prior experiences in music and audio production?

This presentation will share our design choices and reasoning behind them, a quick demonstration of the interactive technologies we used and developed, and conclude with a discussion of various MOOC formats and which might work best for music learning and teaching.

1 Comment

  • Matti Ruippo says:

    Hello Alex, hope you are fine
    I am finalising my thesis (at last) net pedagogy in music education. My main concern is synchronous strategies but in discussion I’d like to deal with open learning. Wandering freely in the internet and hoping to learn music may not be very gratifying. Your PWYM MOOC is a very interesting and promising alternative and I’d like have a little discussion with you about the future of this branch. I could prepare few quetions to you and then we could have a Skype or similar. Please comment.
    Have a nice Christmas time.


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