Final Report Year One – Participants and Samples Chosen for Main Study

From the interviews, a common theme emerged from the content analysis by which the reasons the learners were selecting the course (and other open online courses that they mentioned) fell into two main categories; learning for personal interest and learning for work related interest.

To explore further whether those learning for personal interest are more or less likely to continually engage with the material than those learning for work related interest, or whether further reasons to engage and remain engaged in open online courses will become apparent, three identical surveys are to be hosted in three different locations.

  • OpenLearn website
  • Centre for Inclusion and Collaborative Partnerships (CICP) Partner site and mailing list
  • The Student Room website (OU forum page)

The hosting of three identical surveys in the different locations will provide three separate datasets that can be analysed separately or compared collectively. The three samples will provide insight into the level and endurance of the engagement between learners participating in open online courses for personal or work related purposes, with those engaging for work related purposes most likely to engage to completion quicker than those learning for personal interest.

The three sites provide a wide demographic, with OpenLearn having received over 36 million visits since its launch in 2007 by The Open University as its own open educational resource platform. Analytics and survey data show that learners arrive at the site primarily through search engine results in locating answers to their learning queries, or via click-through from broadcast co-productions. Its learners are not always consciously looking for informal learning experiences so may not be initially engaged to complete a whole course. They may just wish to find the answer to their learning question using a ‘strategic student’ ‘dip-in dip-out’ strategy. OpenLearn hosts over 800 open online courses on their site, including MOOCs.

CICP work in conjunction with a number of widening participation organisations and unions to deliver learning. These learners may select and engage differently with courses as it may be linked to a professional outcome so may approach their learning choices, time to study, engagement to completion activities differently to a learner arriving to OpenLearn in search of an answer to their learning question. Open online courses are recommended by the social partners for enrolment for their learners to develop themselves in a professional capacity.

Finally, the survey is to be hosted on The Open University forum on TSR. TSR is the largest student forum in the UK with over 1.1 million members and its visitors are highly engaged with formal study with the view to progress into higher education. It may be possible that these learners may undertake informal learning with the aim to create a strong academic profile whilst either applying to, or succeeding in university studies. So therefore engagement in the informal is to supplement the formal. At present TSR have not undertaken this type of research with their forum users, so this survey will provide new research data as to how university ready students view and engage with open online courses.

Each of these samples are different, and purposefully selected as to date these platforms and partnerships have not been researched in this field. Whilst it could be argued that the targeting of MOOC specific platforms would be beneficial to the study, this wouldn’t be beneficial as the demographic of those learners on those platforms as discussed previously is not ideal for progression into formal study. Both OpenLearn and CICP attract a very high percentage of widening participation learners who do not have much experience with higher education, and TSR attracts a high volume of forum learners looking to access higher education. What makes this research different and new, is the access to learners who are not the current MOOC demographic to understand how they would engage in open online courses. As highlighted previously, this would be seen by The Open University as a stronger JIFL journey and such findings would be of interest to more than one university.

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