MOOCs: what have we learnt? – notes from the reading group

Steve read HEA: Liberating learning: experiences of MOOCs

MOOCs are increasing in popularity. Will this continue? Registrations, drop outs, completions. Will they disrupt HE?

10-person sample size, people who completed Southampton MOOC. Want to understand motivations, opportunities, problems. Discussed findings with five academics who taught/led it. Aware of small scale, so no recommendations – but reflections and suggestions.

Themes from findings:
1 Flexible, fascinating and free – can fit into lives, customise pace, no financial commitment.
2 Feeling part of something – social & international aspect, even for passive ‘lurkers’
3 Ways of learning – prefer sequential over dipping in/out.
4 A bit of proof? – cost sensitivity to purchasing accreditation. Only 1 wanted this.

Four-quadrant model for MOOC engagement, suggests stuff to include. Two axes:
personal enjoyment vs work/education
studying alone vs social learning

Steve also read What are MOOCs Good For?

MOOC boom and bust? High-profile implementation at San Jose failed, inc backlash from academics. General completion/dropout rate  (SB: do we care about drop outs? Most are window shoppers). Experiments and options/opportunities are still expanding. In summary, more data needed but need to moderate expectations – still a place for innovation, also integrating with traditional teaching – take best bits of both?

Roger read: Practical Guidance from MOOC Research: Students Learn by Doing

This is one of a series of blog posts by Justin Reich, who is Executive Director of the Teaching Systems lab at MIT, which ” investigates the complex, technology-mediated classrooms of the future and the systems we need to develop to prepare teachers for those classrooms.”
In this post from July 2015, Justin’s main point is that when developing MOOCs it is better for student learning to focus on development of interactive activities as opposed to high production videos.  He mentions particularly the value of formative peer assessment, synchronous online discussion and simulations “that create learning experiences that students may not have in other contexts”.
If making videos then focus on the early parts of the course, as watching tends to drop off later in courses. There is some evidence that students prefer Khan academy type screencasts with pen animations rather than talking over slides.

Suzi read Why there are so many video lectures in online learning, and why there probably shouldn’t be

The article argues that video is expensive, particularly if you aim for higher production values (which many people do). Their methodology was a literature review, interviews with experts, and studying the use of video in over 20 MOOCs. There’s no evidence that video does (or doesn’t) work as a learning tool, and little or none that high production values add much. Learners wrongly self-report that they learn well from video (cf the study of physics videos – Saying the wrong thing: improving learning with multimedia by including misconceptions

They argue that people should:

  • think twice before using video
  • use video where it really does add value (virtual field trips, creating rapport, manipulating time and space, telling stories, motivating learners, showcasing historical footage, conducting demonstrations, visual juxtaposition)
  • focus on media-literacy for the content experts and DIY approaches (eg filming on mobile phones)

Suzi also read 10 ways MOOCs have forced universities into a rethink

Broadly an argument that MOOCs are changing HE. MOOCs have given universities the impetus to experiment with pedagogy (notably, fewer lectures), assessment, accreditation, and course structure. They have made more common to think in terms of a digital education strategy. They are also disrupting universities: HEIs are no longer the only providers of HE and cheaper degrees are becoming available. They’ve highlighted an unmet demand (for something like evening classes?) and particularly in vocational and practical subjects. Clark talks about global networks of universities being like airline consortia – the passenger buys one ticket but makes their journey over several airlines.

Mike read  ‘7 ways to make MOOCs Sticky’, a blog post by Donald Clark and also ‘Bringing the Social back to MOOCs’ by Todd Bryant in an EduCause review.

The former looked at design to keep a MOOC audience coming back.  The latter looked at how MOOCs can encompass social learning (rather than just provide content). A point of contention between the two is the importance of social learning – overemphasised if you believe Clark and missing from many MOOCs if you believe Todd.

Clark, drawing on MOOC data from Derby’s Dementia MOOC, listed 7 ways to retain learners. For me, his seven points divide into three related areas, audience, structure and the value of social. He framed the discussion in the recognition that we cannot apply metrics from campus courses to things that are free, open and massive  courses. Clark is often a provocative commentator though, and his downplaying of the social is interesting.

An overarching theme of Clark’s post is audience sensitivity, though at times the audience he is most sensitive to seems to be himself. In my experience, this is a tough challenge for MOOCs. To Clark this is about not treating MOOC learners like undergraduates who are ‘physically and psychologically at University’. He rightly states they have different needs and interests. As someone who has helped design MOOCs, it is hard to make something that is all things to all people, and often it is about providing a range of activities, levels and opportunities for learners to engage.

Related to audience sensitivity, Clark sees a value in keeping MOOCs shorter (definitely wise), modular (allowing people to dip into bits), with less reliance on a weekly structure and coherent whole. This is maybe less about keeping learners, and more about allowing them to get what they want from parts of a course. It would be great to come up with ways to evaluate MOOCs for learners who want to take bits of courses. Post-course surveys are self-selecting and largely made up of completers. It is also a tough design challenge to appeal to such learners whilst also trying to deliver depth and growth through a course. Clark is involved in some companies who develop adaptive learning systems, perhaps reflecting a similar philosophy. Adaptive approaches may provide some answers in the future.

Clark is also is not a fan of the weekly structure, at least in terms of following through with a cohort. I think many learners like both the structure and the social, and these is are the main differentiating factors for MOOCs that mean they are not just a set of online materials. Many learners find the event driven, weekly structure motivating, and it is event many enjoy and learn the social element of MOOCs more than the content. I was always keen to draw out the social elements, to give learners the chance to contribute to the course and learn from each other.  Clark is somewhat scathing of social constructivism and the kind of learning emphasised in C-MOOCs.

This is in contrast to Bryant’s article. For Bryant, too many MOOCs are ‘x-MOOCs’ – largely about content and neglecting the social.  Interestingly, he does cite features of EdX and Coursera that have the potential to change this by allowing learners to work in groups and buddy up during courses. We would have really valued such features when I was working on MOOC about Enterprise. FutureLearn is not currently well equipped in this area.  He goes on to explore other ways of helping people collaborate off platform through user groups and crowd sourcing/ knowledge building tools. This would work well for some, but doubtless exclude others. He considers simulations, virtual worlds and ‘alternate reality games’ – simulations played in the real world. These could all play a role, but for me, alongside a core MOOC structure. Bryant sees MOOCs as a potential ‘bridge between open content and collaborative learning’. I suspect Bryant and Clark would value very different kinds of MOOC. Should we try to appeal to both extremes (and all in between) or pitch the MOOC at a particular audience? Probably the latter, but it still isn’t easy.