The literature reviewed to date has demonstrated that although research has already been undertaken with regards to open courses in the form of MOOCs and engagement with formal courses, little research has been undertaken with respect to the engagement levels of learners that are a stronger fit to the JIFL journey and therefore are of more interest to universities than the current MOOC demographic. Though MOOCs are receiving much interest at present, the wider concept of open online courses will be addressed in this research not just concentrating on MOOCs as learners engage in a range of open online courses.
What this review to date has demonstrated is that there is a strong requirement for research into the engagement of informal learners that are suitable for a JIFL journey into either undergraduate or postgraduate formal education, as it is the strategy of many universities to convert informal learners through open courses into formal students. Even if an informal learner has no desire to become a formal student it is still within the educational provider’s interests to ensure that the learner feels that they are capable to undertake and complete informal learning.
The literature illustrates that research questions must consider the initial attraction to open courses, the learner’s reasons for engaging in such a course, and the concepts and elements of learning design that ensure that learners feel that they can continue on with the course until completion.
One of the themes emerging from the literature reviewed to date is that there has been an expression of academic interest in the retention and completion figures of a range of MOOCs and OOCs, however very little literature has been dedicated to the engagement of the learner with the content, how they were initially attracted to the course (much emphasis is place on ‘free’ rather than the content, the Lead Educator, the university facilitating the course, how it is delivered, how it can be studied, etc.).
Understanding the attraction to engage and then the elements that maintain engagement to completion need addressing as there is a distinct gap in the literature regarding this, and would be of benefit to academics and learning design teams in the creation of open online courses. Hence the following research questions address these concerns and are:
- Why do people engage, and remain engaged in free open online courses?
- What elements of the design of free open online courses increase or maintain learner engagement?
Addressing these questions should guide an understanding of these issues. At present a number of papers have been published about the completion rates of MOOCs, however, very little has been published about the completion rates of alternative open online courses. The literature, upon collation for this research, at present hypothesises as to why learners did not complete the course (such as demographic, education level, etc.) with very little survey evidence relating to engagement itself. When sourcing and reviewing the literature about engagement in the field of informal learning the scope of the review took into consideration all types of informal learning, including singular items of OER. Though the understanding of this is important, the activity and engagement patterns of a learner interacting with a singular piece of content may be different from that of a learner partaking in a course designed to be several weeks in duration. Therefore for the purposes of connection to formal courses through JIFL, open online courses must be isolated from alternatives of informal learning.
The second research question is to address the gap between the associations of learning design to that of learner engagement. As demonstrated above there have been a number of alternative types of open online courses generated since the first MOOC was delivered. To a learner they may been deemed as a collective of free courses, especially as they all comprise of similar elements such as quizzes, peer-review, activities, audio-visual, etc. Even though a course may be massive or not, project or activity based, timed or perpetual, it is the elements of the course that need to be taken into consideration as to recommendations to increase engagement through learner design.
It is important to note that these questions have a wider application beyond that of this doctorate as its findings and recommendations may be able to translate through to formal offerings to aid student engagement to qualification completion.