Progressing Forward into the Second Year

After the excitement (and the jumping around) of the confirmation of successfully completing my first year of my doctorate subsided, I went back to the grindstone to draft my next progress report on my studies since submitting my final year one report. Due to the length I’ve split this across several posts…

  1. Introduction

This research is a continuation into the investigation as to the attraction of open online courses and what elements of learning design engages learners through to course completion. The purpose of this research is to identify what elements of open online courses that learners engage and disengage with, and how these research findings can influence the learning design of open online courses (OOCs).

In the second academic year of the doctorate the focus will be on the review of the initial study, the development and action of the main study, and finally the analysis of the results leading to the dissemination of research findings and development toward the construction of the thesis for submission.            

  1. Feedback from Year One Final Report and Action Plan

The feedback from the Year One Final Report was insightful, and an opportunity to receive constructive criticism on my research which is crucial to ensure that what is research and then reported upon stands against academic rigour.

The feedback gave the opportunity to develop an action plan not only for the second year of the doctorate in the development of the progress reports and research but also to the methods used in writing the content that will be presented in these reports and ultimately the thesis.

Through follow on discussions with Dr Ferguson themed on the feedback given within the Year One Final Report, further clarity has been given towards the elements of the main study, the platforms and courses being brought into focus, and a stronger linking to the literature and research questions, which will be explored further in the relevant sections of this report.

Key features of this feedback have been highlighted and then condensed to produce a guideline for the forthcoming year. This should aid in the methodology used in the execution of the main study and the analysis of the results received from it and the development of writing style in reporting the findings in preparation for the thesis.

Further literature was recommended for reading, which has been undertaken in preparation for this report and for the foundations of the main study.

  1. Reviewing the Title of the Thesis and Research Questions

3.1 Reviewing the Title of the Thesis

As part of the preparation for this Progress Report and utilising the feedback from the Year One Final Report and subsequent discussions with Dr Ferguson as part of the activities within Doctorate Day School, is the review of the title of the thesis and the research questions within.

As my progress reports developed throughout Year One it became clear that the initial title I had submitted as part of the proposal ‘Effective Processes and Structures in Online Learning through a Social Paradigm’ was no longer suitable.

Throughout the development of the progress reports within year one discussions with Professor Whitelock and Dr Ferguson were held as to the relevancy of not only the title of the thesis but also the research questions within.

From these discussions and continual review of the literature the title of the thesis was formed to reflect the gaps with the research currently published. The literature reviewed to date demonstrated that although research has been undertaken with regards to open courses in the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and engagement with formal courses, little research had been undertaken with respect to the engagement levels of learners that are a stronger fit to the JIFL (Journeys from Informal to Formal Learning) journey and therefore are of more interest to universities that the present MOOC demographic. Though MOOCs are receiving much interest at present, the wider concept of open online courses will be addressed in the title, research questions and subsequent research, not just concentrating on MOOCs as learners engage in a range of open online courses.

From this the thesis title was formed to be:

“Engagement of Informal Learners Undertaking Open Online Courses and the Impact of Design”

What this review and feedback 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.

3.2 Reviewing the Research Questions

One of the themes emerging from the literature reviewed to date and from the feedback given 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 placed 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 research questions for the main study and thesis are:

  1. Why do people engage, and remain engaged in free open online courses?
  2. What elements of the design of the free open online courses increase or maintain learner engagement?

Addressing these questions should guide the understanding of these issues. It is important to note that this title and research questions have a wider application beyond that of this doctorate as its findings and recommendations may be able to translate through to formal offering to aid student engagement to qualification completion.

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