Final Report Year One – Methods and Instruments to be applied to Main Study

Though there are a range of methodologies that can be used in research such as interviews, focus groups, and observations, due to the volume of learners undertaking open courses the most suitable methodology would be an online survey as a survey will be able to collate both quantitative and qualitative large-scale data for analysis. This became evident in the execution of the initial study due to the length of time it took to contact learners, arrange interview times, carry out interviews, and transcribe notes. There are a number of attractions in using a survey; one-shot data gathering, wide population representation, ascertains correlations, accurate data capture, and statistical data processing (Morrison, 1993: 38-40).

The self-completion survey is to be hosted online as the sample population of learners enrol and study open courses online, so the required demographic is suitably targeted. In the case of OpenLearn, the link to the survey will be hosted on their ‘free courses’ page on their platform as alternative informal learning available on their site such as articles and interactives are not the focus of the study, and therefore will reduce such anomalies.

The survey includes a combination of nominal data (for comparison with ‘traditional’ MOOC data (Jordan, 2014) to ascertain whether this open course community of informal learners is different), and scaled questions to establish attitudes of participants towards course engagement and learning design. Capturing large scale data through an online survey will aid to determine factual information; preferences, attitudes, behaviour, experiences and beliefs (Weisberg et al, 1996).

The design of the survey has taken into consideration Hoinville and Jowell’s (1978) three prerequisites of survey design; purpose of inquiry, population specification, and resources available. The survey questions strongly address the research questions of engagement, disengagement and learning design. Three populations of learner strategically aligned to the JIFL journey have been identified (address in the Participants and Samples Chosen for Main Study section below), and the survey is to be hosted in the three said locations online within the research timescales. Concern for participants (Sapsford, 1999: 34-40) has been taken into consideration through ensuring anonymity of participants and the fourteen stage process identified by Cohen et al (2009: 209) was followed.

It is expected that such a large scale survey hosted on platforms that receive circa 6 million visitors annually will attract a strong response rate, though a survey of this type researching open course engagement on these platforms hasn’t been actioned before. For this purpose, and to confirm, clarify, and question any commonalities, trends and anomalies the final survey question allows participants to submit their personal details for further contact. It is planned that further contact will be made in the form of follow up interviews, with questions based on the findings of the main study survey.

The evaluation report data from the first ten MOOCs presented by The OU on FutureLearn will also be reviewed in conjunction with the demographic data collected by the survey as historical documentary research to ascertain whether non-MOOC (therefore JIFL prospective) learners are being successfully targeted.

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