Final Report Year One – Addressing of Research Questions in Initial Study

From the interviews and the analysis, the learners came from a range of educational backgrounds to engage with the course Moons (delivered by The Open University on OpenLearn and FutureLearn platforms). From these interviews it was difficult to identify a strong characteristic from the interview demographic and how they planned their learning time. From this reflection, and with the literature reviewed regarding the emerging demographics of self-directed learners, it became apparent for the need to gather demographic data within the first part of the survey, firstly to see if there is an emerging demographic of learners that have a propensity towards engaging with open online courses, and whether this is a similar or related demographic of that previous reviewed regarding self-directed learners.

As OpenLearn have been surveying their learners for the past three years, permission has been granted to review this survey data in comparison to the data to be collected from the surveys within the initial and main studies. Application of comparison of this data to the initial study will occur during the analysis of the initial and main study survey results. This will be of relevance in relation to the research being conducted for the initial and main study, as previously the concentration of OpenLearn has been free study units, with only a recent emergence of hosting open online courses and may prove of benefit in addressing the research questions. From the comparison of both data sets it can be determined whether there are commonalities and/or differences in the demographic of the learners that previously engaged with free study units as to now engaging with open online courses. It is possible that some learners have progressed from study units to open online courses, however with the emergence of MOOCs, it could be that the hosting of open online courses on OpenLearn has attracted a new demographic of engaged learners to the platform, which OpenLearn are reviewing as part of their annual survey analysis.

In defining questions in the surveys as to how the learners are attracted to open online courses will aid in the addressing of the first research question as to why they engage and whether the engagement has any relevancy to consideration for more formal study (therefore potentially increasing the level of engagement to completion). A number of the questions are related to the literature reviewed in relation to self-directed learners to understand whether there may be a correlation between self-direction and engagement, and finally questions relating to how the learners engage with the courses; the technology they use (which may impact on how the course can be presented and engaged with) and the elements of learning design itself (e.g. the use of reading material, audio-visual content, quizzes, etc.) that can affect their levels of engagement.

The beta survey will open to testing from May 2015, and as with the interviews the same process of participant selection will be followed. Previously learners that had registered for Moons on both OpenLearn and FutureLearn platforms were selected for the interviews. For the beta survey learners that had registered for Introduction to Ecosystems on both OpenLearn and FutureLearn platforms are being selected to be invited to complete the beta survey. It is expected that initial analysis will be presented in Progress Report 05.

Conclusions of Initial Study

Though the initial study is still ongoing, the aims are being addressed as follows:

  • A combination of methods of interviews and survey has been applied to the initial study in trial of the main study. It has been found that the use of interviews with participants can only be used in small numbers due to the length of time it has taken to contact participants, arrange interviews, conduct interviews, transcribe notes and analyse responses given. Therefore it is recommended that a survey be used as the main method for collecting data in the main study, with further use of interviews and focus groups as required as an outcome of the data analysed.
  • An initial understanding into the view point of learners engaging with free courses has been collated through the interviews and will continue with the conducting of the beta survey.
  • Learners were selected from two different platforms (FutureLearn and OpenLearn) and commonalities occurred in how they prioritised the course in their everyday life, views on returning to the course at a later date versus drop out, and the continuation of learning through the enrolment of further courses.
  • Differences were also highlighted in how the learners management their time whilst studying, and how they progressed through the courses, questions covering these aspects are included in the beta survey for further analysis.
  • The interviews have aided in the development of questions for the beta survey.
  • Upon completion of the beta survey the data from both the interviews and the beta survey will be analysed and cascaded into methods and question types for use in the main study.
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