Title: Changing ''Course'': Reconceptualizing Educational Variables for Massive Open Online Courses (2014)

Authors: Jennifer DeBoer, Andrew D. Ho, Glenda S. Stump, & Lori Breslow

Source: Educational Researcher

Research Question: How can we reconceptualize educational variables of enrollment, participation, curriculum and achievement for MOOCs?

Study Design: MOOCs have attracted millions of learners from across the globe to this new online learning movement. The magnitude of learning data and the new context in which these data are collected present new opportunities and challenges for researchers to understand what and how participants learn online. In this study, the authors argue that reconceptualizing conventional educational variables is necessary and critical to gain a more accurate understanding of learning in MOOCs. Drawing on the data from the first MIT MOOC course in 2012 which had 154,763 registrants and over 230 million clicks, the authors reexamine the meaning of enrollment, participation, curriculum and achievement for MOOCs.

Findings: Unlike conventional college course registrants who meet certain preconditions and express informed commitment at course registration, registrants of MOOCs come from various backgrounds with different reasons for course enrollment, and have various levels of commitment for coursework. Thus, the common criticism of low course completion rates in MOOCs, which is based on a conventional understanding of registration and enrollment, does not consider the differences between learners in these two contexts. Considering only those users who attempted at least one homework problem, posted at least once on the discussion forum, and clicked on at least one video in this 2012 MIT MOOC, for instance, the completion rate rises to 48%, which provides a more nuanced description of learners and their achievements in this MOOC.

Similarly, reconceptualization of curriculum, participation and achievement is necessary to understand learning in MOOCs more accurately. Analysis of student course click data suggests that the openness of resources allowed students to customize their curriculum experiences: they interacted with course resources at different times, in different sequences, and at different rates. A large number of users only clicked videos but did not do homework or show intention to complete a course certificate. Thus, conventional definitions of curriculum, course participation and achievement do not effectively and appropriately apply to the MOOC context.

Moving Forward: Judging from the standpoint that millions of people now have access to and have interacted with lectures and course materials previously confined to students on college campuses, MOOCs have contributed to a revolutionary learning movement. The criticism of low course completion rates in MOOCs suggests a lag in new approaches to understanding this new learning phenomenon. This research provides a much needed new understanding about learning in MOOCs. Updates in MOOC design that could help users identify their personal goals, along with more flexible and individualized curriculum arrangements and participation approaches are going to be critical for realizing the full potential of MOOCs for the educational revolution.

Image: Are MOOCs about freedom? by Eleni via Flickr