Year One Final Report – Introduction

This research is an investigation into the attraction of open online courses and what elements of learning design engages learners through to course completion. The purpose of the research is to identify what elements of an open online courses learners engage and disengage with and how these research findings can influence the learning design of open online courses.

This research is considered important as there is a stronger focus than before, especially at The Open University (OU), to attract and convert for-free learners into for-fee students as recruitment funnel which the OU refers to as ‘Journeys from Informal to Formal Learning’ (JIFL). For such a conversion to take place it is expected that a learner progress through open online courses (OOC’s) to a successful completion giving them the necessary confidence and exposure to enough course material to encourage them to take their learning further and explore more formal for credit options. Without the optimum levels of engagement with the materials it is perceived that a learner may lose interest in the course and therefore in the prospect of becoming a formal student and therefore could cause a fall or lack of increase in student numbers.

I also have a strong interest in this field, having joined the OU in 2005, and in that time developed a range of projects with students and academics, largely themed on improving online communication methods within the web presence of the OU, utilising a range of emerging tools, platforms, and techniques to leverage student engagement. For the last six years I have been working on several projects on the impact of social media on student engagement, with the developing movement towards social learning and its use of hosting on third party platforms, with my portfolio subsequently expanding to the role of Senior Producer: Social & Syndication at The Open University. It is within this role and the culmination of experience across this domain that has led me to influencing and leading the development of features and content of The Open University’s free online learning platform OpenLearn, and the production and syndication of content to the MOOC platform FutureLearn.  In my professional career outside of The Open University I also undertake freelance consultancy in the field of social media and its impact on a range of industry sections, and serve as an Online Executive Panel Member at McKinsey giving views on emerging technologies and the impact of social changes across the technology industry.

The main areas of study that this research will address is the application of OOCs in this manner, whether learners consider that they are able to engage with them fully in their current presentation, the types of engagement that a learner may have with such a course, and any recommendations as a result of the research as to how an OOC should be designed in future.

The body of literature selected for this review consists of research in the field of MOOCs and other open online courses, learner engagement, self-directed learners, and learning design. The scope of this research is to gain a stronger understanding as to why learners engage and remain engaged with OOCs, and the elements of design for recommendation that could potentially maintain or increase learner engagement.

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