Final Report Year One – Initial Study

The aim of the initial study was to:

  • Trial a combination of methods to be applied to the main study (interviews and surveys).
  • To understand the view point of learners engaging with free courses
  • To select learners to interview from two different platforms seeks to highlight any commonalities that may occur in the selection of the course and then their engagement with it (as it is the same course, but delivered differently).
  • For the selection to highlight any differences in responses and whether they were viewed as either positive or negative to their learning experience.
  • To gather responses from interview questions to help set survey questions for beta survey
  • For data from initial study interviews and beta survey to cascade into methods and question types used in the main study

For the initial study a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods are being piloted. This is to ensure that the methods identified for the main study are suitable through the data analysis of the initial study so that the research questions can be tested. The initial study comprised of three parts. Firstly, that a small sample of 12 candidates was selected via random sampling for interview (see Appendix One for interview questions) from the same open online course but hosted on two different platforms (one with option for learner social features and one without).  The second phase was the analysis of the responses gathered that aided the refinement of the survey questions being drafted (Appendix Two). The final stage is the testing of the beta survey on a small population to ensure the design, layout, and question content are suitable for use in the main study.

The participants were selected from the survey data collated from both FutureLearn and OpenLearn (an OER platform launched by the OU in 2007) surveys on the Moons open online course. The participants were contacted via email with their details hidden via the BCC functionality inviting them to partake in an interview. A reminder email was despatched ten days later to those that had not yet replied with the further option to be removed from the mailing list. Of the twenty four that were emailed two requested to be removed from the mailing list. Twelve participants agreed to be interviewed, six from each course, with a further one from each course available for interview if an interview was cancelled.

All interviews but one were conducted via telephone, the other via audio Skype as was overseas, these methods were selected as the learners where not in commutable distance for a face-to-face interview. The interviews were ten questions in length (see Appendix One) and took approximately 20-30 minutes each to complete. Eleven were interviewed during what is considered the ‘working day’ whilst the final participant was interviewed on an evening. All participants were asked what date and time and what method of contact (telephone or Skype) would suit them best. The written recording was conducted initially by hand, and then transferred to electronic files for storing and analysis. Each participant was allocated an identification number, by which all the files were then stored under.

Findings From Interviews

All the interviews were allocated a number on point of contact; this number remained allocated to them upon point of response and interview. At no point were the numbers reallocated (e.g. 1-6) to allow for further interviews for late replying candidates, the interviewing of substitute candidates if one the finalised six were to cancel, or the additional interviewing of candidates if required. Tables 1 and 2 demonstrate excerpts of the interviews transcribed.

All but one of the participants (OL12) had responded that they had since gone on to enrol on a further open online course or formal study since they enrolled on Moons. All the participants stated that they liked to study courses out of personal interest, with one (FL11) adding the relevancy of study to their profession. Due to the subject of the course selected to contact participants through (Moons) the correlation of the course subject and the relevance to the workplace may have been higher in an alternative course.

All participants stated that they liked to select courses that were intellectually challenging; however all commented that they selected courses that were within subjects that already interested them. Two (FL01 and FL08) commented that they would never pick a course in the ‘fine arts’ as it would be of no interest to them.

One participant (FL08) commented he found the discussions on the FutureLearn course to be ‘chaotic’ and ‘difficult to learn from others’ as the other learners were just commenting on their activity. All of the learners said that they preferred to learn on their own, with two added that they would participate in social activity (FL05 and FL08) however neither stated that it would be as an alternative to loan study. Two participants (Fl04 and OL11) adding that if they join or rejoin a course late due to personal commitments then they didn’t need to comment on the activities as the cohort would have been ahead of them or completed the course.

All but one (FL11) said that they had registered for more than one course at the time, but only one of them (FL11) had a specific time management strategy, the remainder stating that they ‘just make time’ (FL01), and learn ‘when free’ (OL09), and ‘when time allows’ (OL11).  Two (FL04 and FL12) commented that they had completely abandoned a course at least once, yet all stated that they didn’t always study to the course schedule and had intentions of returning to unfinished courses after course closure at a later date to complete them.

All stated that they generally followed the course structure, except two participants (FL12 and OL07) however two stated that they skipped parts that were optional (FL04 and FL05), such as long videos (FL04), if they found it uninteresting (OL01), felt they already knew the topic being covered(FL12 and OL11), or if it was an activity such as an assignment which they felt they wouldn’t benefit from (OL09).


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