Join us for a tech comm intro MOOC by STC

This fall, the STC will run a free 5-week MOOC to allow everybody online to explore the field of technical communications – and I’m excited to be teaching the introductory module!

The full syllabus

The MOOC will highlight the roles and responsibilities of technical communication professionals through 5 specializations in 5 weekly modules, starting on 30 September:

  1. Introduction to technical communication, by myself
  2. Content development and delivery, by Bernard Aschwanden
  3. Content strategy and lifecycle, by Mollye Barrett
  4. Instructional design, by Dana West and Phylise Banner
  5. Usability and user assistance, by Ray Gallon and David Farbey

The introductory module

My module in the first week will serve as a general introduction to the field of technical communication.

What will you learn?

After the module, you should be able to

  • Define purpose, benefits and tasks of technical communication
  • Argue the value of technical communication for companies and clients
  • Describe the daily job and career of a technical communicator
  • Identify the elements of effective technical communication
  • Describe and develop basic core skills of a technical communicator

What do you do?

Your week will start with some assigned texts and videos to introduce the topics.

You will see how all the pieces fit together in an online lesson on Wednesday afternoon (US time). The outline will be the same as for the readings; it looks something like this:

  1. What is technical communication? – Definitions and trends
    • A changing definition, from technical writing to business problem-solving
    • Recent trends (mobile and embedded help, social media and user-generated content)
  2. Why have technical communication? – Benefits and business cases
    • How technical communication benefits users and companies and products
    • What only technical communication can do (USPs)
  3. Who is a technical communicator? – Tasks and career
    • A day in the life
    • Personality and aptitudes
    • A versatile career path
  4. How does a technical communicator work? – Skills and expertise
    • Know your audience through audience analysis and personas
    • Learn from subject-matter experts by research and collaboration
    • Write task-oriented topics using task analysis and modular topic types
    • Edit modular documentation for content and language

You will have a chance to try your hand on technical communications in a couple of learning activities (a/k/a assignments) around creating and editing documentation.

Oof, that’s a lot, no?

Well, yes and no. Yes, it is a wide area, but the purpose is to give you a taste of our versatile profession! I’ll start with the larger picture to illustrate the value of tech comm and how it can be cool and profitable, before diving into a few core skills in depth. The four later modules can afford to be a little more focused.

More information

More information will be available shortly on the web sites of STC which is sponsoring this MOOC and on CourseSites which is furnishing the platform for it.

In the meantime, check out Mollye Barrett talking about the MOOC and her module in a 1:30 video.

What do you think?

Would this be interesting to participate in? What other topics would you expect to see covered in the intro module? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see if I can address your opints, either in the comments or in the MOOC module itself!


9 Responses

  1. Hi Kai,

    I am looking forward to it!

    I was actually wondering why no one had started a Tech Comm MOOC yet, given the paucity of affordable trainings.

    • Thanks, discwrites, glad to hear it!

      I can think of several possible reasons where there’s no tech comm MOOC yet:
      – Even though many practices are considered tried and true by many, trends and technologies make tech comm a rather rapidly evolving profession. It takes some gumption to nail down the status quo. So the challenge is to commit and say: “What is tech comm, really, right now?”
      – The constant evolution also means you won’t know how much cnotent you could potentially reuse year after year (IF you wanted to make this a long-term offering) as you can in, say, calculus. So the challenge is to keep materials and messages up to date.
      – In many areas such as content strategy or DITA or mobile tech comm, there’s no clear consensus as how to best implement it. There are at least a handful of variant opinions on each – and how relevant it is depends ultimately on each company’s or tech writer’s circumstances. So the challenge is to condense something that 80% of the tech comm scene can agree to which is still relevant for 80% of the market.

      So I think it’s no surprise that what affordable – or even free – training exists comes in two flavors: Webinars, often on special, discrete subjects. Or tool training, often offered by the vendors.

      Just my two cents, cheers, Kai.

      P.S. Looking forward to seeing you at TCUK13 in Bristol in September – will you be there?

      • I personally thought that the reason no tech writing MOOC had been setup yet was that technical writers are too busy writing for someone else.

        And yes, tech writing evolves quickly, but I think the bare fundamentals have not changed much since the times of Chaucer’s. I happened to re-read the Strunk and White last week (the original version is almost a century old) – and it is still a great guide for non-fiction writing.

        Well… I made a habit of complaining about ISTC dropping the Tech Comm Techniques and Tech Authorship courses. I only managed to take the first one, and found it satisfactory and affordable. There is nothing out there that really replaces those courses, while setting up a MOOC – or several – would be easy and ideal.

        Not entirely by coincidence, I wrote an article about MOOCs for the upcoming Communicator issue.

        So are the assignments in the MOOC going to be peer-reviewed? What is your opinion about CourseSites?

        I will not be there in Bristol but I will listen to the recordings after the event.


  2. Hi, Diego,

    Well, putting together a MOOC module is a bit more work than putting together a tech comm conference talk – but we’re fortunate that plenty people are willing to share their expertise and find the time to do it! 🙂

    I don’t think that centuries old principles of clear and concise writing should occupy a lot of space in tech comm education. Yes, too few people do it well, but I learned it in school and in college. I consider it too general a skill, so it won’t take up much space in my module, either. I’ll focus more topic-based authoring, for example, which many people who write and write well find difficult in tech comm.

    I’m looking forward to reading your piece on MOOCs in Communicator!

    Yes, the idea is to have peer reviews on the assignments, but I’m not quite sure yet how this will work.

    I’m sorry I don’t have an opinion of CourseSites yet since I haven’t received any instructions or login to the actual MOOC site yet.

    Cheers, Kai.

  3. Kai, I can’t find any information about the MOOC on the STC website. Do you have registration information or anything like that?

    • Good question, Bill. Since the MOOC requires participants to dedicate some time and effort over several weeks, I have asked the STC contacts several weeks ago to make more information and registration available. However, I don’t know when and where this will be available, sorry.

  4. Hallo Kai
    This sounds very interesting indeed. I take my hat off to you – that amount of work shows plenty of dedication!

    Does the course focus on the software industry, or will it mention others such as the medical and defence industries? Phew, a wide field.

    Looking forward to hearing more as the MOOC development progresses.


    • Hi, Sarah,

      Yes, this can use some clarification… 🙂 I can only speak for my own module: I’m trying to keep it industry-agnostic, for three reasons.

      1. Diverse audience: The MOOC intends to introduce participants to tech comm, whatever their background may be. If someone has years – or even just fleeting – experience in an industry, they can most likely fill in many of the blanks how tech comm applies to their field. Or know better than me how to reach out to tech comm’ers in their industry to find out more.

      2. Time: My module is quite full already, so I’m trying to focus on what is relevant to most participants.

      3. Knowledge: I don’t have enough knowledge outside the software industry to summarize other industries well.

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