Category Archives: MOOC

what happened to all the MOOCs?

What happened to the MOOCs?

MOOC = Massive Open Online Course

You knew that already, yes? Here are my thoughts for a Friday afternoon.

Massive – Yes, these courses are usually large. But anything that isn’t constrained by the number of chairs in a room has this potential. A course that has 200 people on it from a provider that has rooms that can cope with no more than 150 people would call this ‘massive’. We know that FutureLearn has had the largest ever online course (I’m not calling them MOOCs anymore) with 440,000 registered for one course, but we’ve yet to see the stats about how many who signed up actually started it, completed more than one week, even completed the course? I wonder if the larger numbers are reflected in the percentages of these ‘completors’ and whether they’re better/worse than those with (much) lower numbers (e.g. 5-15k sign-ups) or figures from other providers?

It’s a little strange that the Guinness World Record website has no mention of FutureLearn or online course, does that still make it a valid record?

Open – Yes, they’re open, but it’s increasingly difficult to find the ‘open’ version (especially on Coursera), you’ve really got to hunt for the link in amongst all the ‘specialization’ and ‘pricing’ links. If you didn’t know what to look for you’d be forgiven for thinking these MOOCs are not free. Open is also about the lack of requirement/prerequisites to already be educated to a particular level. Open, in this way means we can all try something we’d otherwise have to complete an application for (and pass).

Online – Yes, they’re online. Well, they are available to everyone, so long as everyone has access to a computing device and an internet connection. I would like to say personal access to a device and access to a reliable internet connection, but I appreciate this isn’t always the case.

Course – Yes, they’re a course; a collection of articles, videos and activities, maybe with discussion points dotted here or there (for social learning), and probably a test or end ‘assignment’ to prove you’ve learned something to qualify you for a certificate.

My point here is that I am seeing less and less, on the courses or platforms I see, that resemble MOOCs I saw two years ago. MOOC providers have to make money, yes, so there needs to be a way for them to make it, and statements and certificates and the like is a good way to do this. I’m just not sure we’re creating MOOCs for the reason we started – are we trying to force the learning into a model that is, essentially, for-profit now? What about courses that are really just about learning something new, not for CPD or to further a career, those that don’t have something that can be tested? Do you force a test or assignment just so an arbitrary mark can be assigned, therefore completing the numbers & stats in order for a mark/grade or completion rate for a certificate to be awarded?

Are MOOCs (and what we used to refer to as MOOCs) about learning or, as it seems now with exams, tests, assignments, certificates, etc. about the testing and payment options?

I’ll hang my hat firmly on the peg and say that, in the original and purest ‘ideal’ of a MOOC, MOOCs should be about expanding your knowledge, in any subject, for your own reasons and in your own time. Whether there is a paid-for option at the end (provided it’s still free for all at the start and everything inside the course is the same) shouldn’t matter. But it feels like it does. It feels like the commercial aspect is taking over. I hope not.

Image source: ms.akr (CC BY 2.0)

MOOCopoly

MOOCopoly

While searching for something else, I found this fantastic image/resources from Alan Levine – MOOCopoly:

“MOOCOPOLY is the game of teaching massively, openly online and includes the range of players from DS106, CCK08 to the Stanford trio, MITx, and more. Take your chance and many you will have community or not. See more about the making of this monster cogdogblog.com/2014/05/03/moocopoly-the-game/

Fantastic. While it’s based in the DS106 and other specific courses, there is much here for everyone who uses or is involved in MOOCs to take away and adapt. I can see a conference poster coming from this … ;-)

MOOCopoly

Click for original Flickr image: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Video Filming David Hopkins

How ‘long’ is too ‘long’?

For a few years now I’ve been spouting the same lines when it comes to planning a video for an distance learning course or MOOC: “preferably no more than 4 minutes, definitely no more than 6.” Anything more than 6 and we’d consider splitting it at a natural point in the subject, or working with the individual and their content and seeing where a natural break can be made, or other ways to shorten the video.

This has been supported by experience (from distance learning courses I’ve supported at both Bournemouth and Leicester University’s) and the MOOCs I’ve supported and developed while at Warwick, as well as articles like this.

As with everything, there is enough evidence to be found to support and to disprove it.

Yes, I agree that if you have a ‘teaching’ resource, where the academic/teacher is speaking to camera then there is an optimum length that someone will sit and be ‘talked at’, and this is where I see the 6 minute limit coming into play. These kinds of resources are often loaded to a VLE or a MOOC and as part of a set of resources for the topic or week’s subject area.

But there are other approaches to video content where I don’t see this working. What about case studies or mini-documentaries? What about a conversation, when a short 4 minute clip just isn’t enough to get in to the details? Do you still stick to the short-is-best message? In order for these to work you will often need to make it longer so the content and ‘message’ of the case study can be put across.

Let’s not forget, the video is nothing on it’s own. It must always be put into context for the student – why are you presenting the video for them to watch, what do you expect them to think about when they watch it, is there something they need to question as a result of the video (and/or linking it to other resources to build their wider knowledge about the subject area), can they critique the resource and present their findings back to the group, etc.?
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MOOC success

Making a MOOC ‘successful’

Designing a ‘successful’ MOOC is one thing. Making a MOOC ‘successful’ is something completely different.

Much has been written by far better and more eloquent people than me (here and here and here and here and here) on what makes a successful MOOC – all about interactions, journeys, optimum length, appropriate materials, platform, etc.. But what about making a MOOC successful? To me, there is a difference.

This isn’t about making / building / designing a MOOC, it’s about making / encouraging / promoting / informing people about the MOOC.

The argument about MOOC success, learner retention, completion numbers, registrations, etc., is one that will rage on and on, everyone has an opinion, everyone looking at something different, all very valid, and all very important questions. There isn’t a definitive answer – each MOOC is different, for a different audience, for a different demographic (maybe), and designed in a way that different learner ‘profiles’ can get something different out at the end. If indeed they reach the end, which of course they don’t have.

No, making a successful MOOC requires more than a lead academic(s) subject knowledge, learning technology, instructional/education design, assessments, an appropriate learning goal/journey, working platform, etc. You need all the other stuff as well.

The other stuff you need? Well, try:  Continue reading

MOOC quality

MOOCs – question on purpose, quality, student retention, feedback, etc.

Ahh, questions around the purpose, quality, value, etc. in and around MOOCs have started again, and justly so.

  • Disclaimer: Like many I have opinions, but not answers.

The recently raised questions, started by Fred Riley on the ALT mailing list, have produced a good set of resources for those of us who are starting to ask these questions, needing a more comprehensive or value-added answer.

Fred’s original query was:


Does anyone on this list know of any recent research and/or articles on the teaching quality of MOOCs? I’m thinking of things such as:

  • student retention, with MOOC drop-out rates being notoriously high (I plead guilty to that myself :( )
  • student surveys and qualitative feedback
  • how many students in a MOOC platform (eg FutureLearn) go on to take further courses in that platform

I’m sure that there are many other indicators of quality – those are just off the top of my head. I’m not in the MOOC game myself as yet, other than as a punter, but I’m looking to get into the development side of things.


In some instances, especially around the data of students/learners taking further courses (across MOOC platform providers as well as within) is difficult, but I hope we can get to a stage where this kind of data is available and open to interrogation (if only for the individual partner to  query their own courses).

Here are some of the resources shared, in response to Fred’s original query:

If you have any further links or resources that would help Fred and the ALT mailing list, please reply to the thread on the mailing list. If you don’t have access then please leave the link or your comment below for everyone to have the opportunity to read.

Yes, OK. Fred’s question also raises the question around the ‘quality’ of a MOOC, the validity in the data of learner retention or ‘steps completed’ as triggers for saying a MOOC is of a certain quality, or the student was ‘successful’ on the course, but these are for another post. Fred answered this quite clearly on the ALT mailing list that, for him “retention is IMO and indicator of quality as perceived by the student – the better retention, the more students are engaged with the course and its materials. If they don’t like a course, they’ll drop out.”

NB: I’ve helped run several runs of the Warwick/FutureLearn ‘Shakespeare and his World’ MOOC and use this as an example I use where the statistics provided for the 10 week course don’t necessarily match the actual experience. Case in point is the number of learners who complete the course, in that they take all the tests and mark at least one step as complete in each of the 10 weeks. We know from the learners themselves, from their comments, feedback, tweets, etc., that they take what they want from the course – one learner may only like Shakespeare’s comedy’s, another likes on his tragedy’s, so they will omit the plays/weeks they don’t like. They should still be viewed as a successful learner, and I’;m sure they think that of themselves, as in their own mind (and in ours!) they got what they wanted from the course, yet did not actually ‘complete’ it.

If there is one question for 2016 and MOOCs, it’s whether there is any way to really truly, honestly, understand the ‘value’ of a MOOC?

Image source: State Library Victoria (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Can MOOCs and Open Badges provide an alternative to the so-called ‘inflation of educational credentials’?

Reading: Open Badge’s and MOOCs #openbadges

Badges continue to interest me, and the development of open badges in online courses and commercial/corporate settings seems to be gaining momentum?

However, the bottom line is that conditions have changed (i.e. progressive mobility worldwide, as well as the increasing need for recognition of migrants’ qualifications). While some authors warn about the risky “inflation of educational credentials” others go even further claiming that “The university has already lost any claim to monopoly over the provision of higher education” (Duke, 1999). The initiatives described here are still in an embryonic stage but at the same time are promising in terms of new possibilities for more flexible tools and, as @daveowhite suggests, they provide new currencies that can redesigning the economy of talent (find more in UNESCO UIL or the EU ESCO).

As I always say, badges will not be suitable for everyone, nor every situation or course, or learning journey(s). But they do have a place in demonstrating acquisition of skills, in a carefully implemented and designed environment, for a specific and define purpose. Whether the display of the badge itself is part of the reason we strive to earn it is part of the value associated with the badge and is something for others to argue (but I am keenly interested in the outcome and arguments).

Image source: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs:

Reading: Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs

One aspect of working on MOOCs is that there is no clear way to measure it’s success. Do you use the stats and logs that indicate clicks and time-on-page, or look at the nature of the conversations and/or comments made?

That’s why this paper loaded to Academia.edu by George Veletsianos piqued my interest – is there something in here that can help me understand the metrics we need to use in order to measure the learning and/or success of a MOOC?

“Digging Deeper into Learners’ Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption.”

Unsurprisingly the authors highlights the lack of literature around MOOCs that look into the metrics of MOOCs that are not captured on the MOOC platform (EdX, Coursera, FutureLearn, etc.), notably the social engagements, note-taking, and content consumption. Something I’d not considered before is the “availability of large-scale data sets appears to have shaped the research questions that are being asked about MOOCs.”  Continue reading

How do you measure MOOCs?

How do you measure the ‘success’ of a MOOC?

Here’s a question I’ve been battling for some time .. how do you measure the ‘success’ of a MOOC? The problem is that I haven’t been able to define what the ‘success’ is supposed to be, so to try and measure it seems, well, a pointless exercise.

So, here’s a few thoughts I’ve had based on my experiences as a learner on MOOCs (yes, plural), and as part of a team developing and delivering 4 FutureLearn MOOCs now (with a few more in the pipeline too!).

  • Do you look for the headline figures of number of registered learners, or the number of registered learners that became learners (visited the course)?
  • Do you look for the number at the number of learners who did something, that engaged on the course in some way .. as either a number (e.g. 4,000) or as a percentage of the learners who visited the course (e.g. 40%)?
  • If you plan your MOOC to link to a paid-for course (degree, training, etc.) do you measure the success by the number of MOOC learners who enquire, or sign-up, to the linked course?
  • Do you look to the quiz or test responses, to see who’s retained and regurgitated the information based on a ‘score’?
  • Is it the final number of learners who make it through the length of the course to the end?
  • Is the number of comments a worthy of a measurement of success? Do courses that have more comments (either in volume or as a percentage of active learners) indicate a greater success than those with fewer?
  • Can you measure the success based on interactions on social media, through a defined hashtag? In which case do you measure the number of mentions on the hashtag or dig deeper and quantify the different sorts of engagements, ranging from “I’m on #such-and-such course” to enquiries or the detailed thought process involved in critical thinking along the lines of the MOOC subject?
  • Is a successful course one that takes learners from the MOOC environment into a related course, be it a MOOC or other paid-for course? If so, are you capturing that data?

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Learning Online

Reading: Learner engagement in MOOCs

After attending a FutureLearn partners webinar about designing online courses, the age-old issue of encouraging and engaging learners in online communication came up. It made me reflect on my past posts about online learning, specifically this one: MOOCs – 9 points on what I like, and what I don’t. If you want to go and read it before carrying on, be my guest.

Hurry back!

Glad you came back. What annoys me about MOOCs, and some people who design online courses in general, is the assumption that everything you build will be used, and be used the way you want it to be used. VLEs are somewhat to blame for the apathy or lack of engagement in online activities, especially discursive or forums or comment sections – you’re locked into one specific tool for engagement. Continue reading

MOOCs

MOOCs – 9 points on what I like, and what I don’t

Over two years ago I wrote about a few experiences I’d had with some online courses / MOOCs, and why I ‘failed’ (according to the general headline figures of engagement, attendance, etc. that are used in mainstream press).

I want to revisit this, in light of more experience in both designing MOOCs and being a student on them.

Disclaimer: This is based on courses I’ve taken on the FutureLearn, Coursera, Cloudworks, EdX, and WordPress (OcTEL) platforms. I also highlight whether is was a student on the course, or part of the development team.

1. Comments and Engagement: For the most part I’ve been a silent students. This is both deliberate and accidental. Where it’s been a deliberate choice to not engage in the comments and discussion it’s been because I knew I didn’t have the time or inclination to trawl through the hundreds of fairly uninteresting posts to add my two-pennies worth or find the one nugget of insight that is worth anything. It’s also because, for some courses, I didn’t have enough interest to take my engagement further.

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