Adapting a MOOC for Research

Written by my colleague, Rachael Hodge, this article is a summary of our experience in identifying and developing research activities within the University of Warwick’s MOOC Literature and Mental Health.

The University of Warwick’s FutureLearn MOOC Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, which began its first presentation February 2016, was identified as an opportunity to conduct some research into the course subject area, ‘reading for wellbeing’ or ‘bibliotherapy’. Since 2013, a substantial body of literature has emerged in the field of MOOC-related research, with the MOOC becoming both the subject of and vehicle for research. The research approach adopted in Literature and Mental Health was influenced by other, recent research studies conducted within MOOCs, and particularly by the first presentation of Monash University’s Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance FutureLearn MOOC, which distributed a stress survey to its learners in the first and final weeks of the course, to assess the efficacy of the course’s mindfulness practices. 

A number of reasons for trialling the use of this MOOC as a research tool were identified at the project’s outset. MOOCs give researchers access to large numbers of possible research participants, making MOOC research an attractive prospect, while the opportunity to gather valuable, potentially publishable data from free online courses may help to justify the time and resources expended during the production of new MOOCs. Several additional benefits of in-MOOC research were discovered during the process, including the potential for research activities to enrich the learner experience. However, a number of challenges and limitations were also encountered during the development of the study; the inevitable self-selection bias among MOOC learners, and the difficulty of establishing a control group within the MOOC activities, posed impediments to the gathering of useful, publishable data. 

Although we were aware of other MOOCs which had been used as vehicles for research, the process of adapting Literature and Mental Health for this research study was nonetheless an illuminating and instructive experience. The purpose of this paper is to reflect on that experience, and to consider the lessons learned during the process which may be useful in informing future research studies conducted via Massive Open Online Courses.

Hodge, R., (2016). Adapting a MOOC for Research: Lessons Learned from the First Presentation of Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing. Journal of Interactive Media in Education. 2016(1), p.19. DOI:

Image source: Judy Dean (CC BY 2.0)