Year Two: Methodology of 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 a change to the original strategy for the main study, learners who have completed start of course surveys for courses that are hosted on both FutureLearn and OpenLearn will be targeted. Then the response data for individual courses can be analysed for comparison, and also collated for collective comparison of open online courses hosted on OpenLearn and FutureLearn. As the platform functionality and features differ this will aid in developing an understanding as to whether the presence or absence of such features impact on engagement and learning design.

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.

The main study will also include the development of interview questions to be conducted on an individual 1:1 basis or as part of a focus group. 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.

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.


  1. Implication of Research and Dissemination Strategy

The implications of this research have strong implications upon professional practice as Senior Producer: MOOCs for The Open University. The findings from this research have drawn the attention and interest of the Director, Open Media who commissions open online courses for The Open University, Lead Educators and academic authors who create the content for open online courses and departments with the University who edit and construct the courses for publish and hosting. Interest has also been received from parties (academic and non-academic) external to the University, as findings may have implications on the development of their open online course strategies also.

At present, the blog ‘Doctor in Waiting’ is being utilised as a research journal (Burgess, 1984) documenting the process of the doctorate, the research, data findings, analysis and review of literature. From this there have been invitations to co-write academic papers and book chapters on the research and the implications on open online course development. This would be in addition to the development of thesis for submission.

Key to the dissemination of research is the development of a strategy to address the ways to disseminate for; awareness, understanding and action. From this aids the understanding of want is to be disseminated, to whom would the dissemination be to (external, internal and connected audiences), the timely manner as to when to disseminate (after main study, after thesis), the channels through which to disseminate (papers, conferences, blog, reports, workshops, book chapters, etc.), who may assist in the dissemination (supervisors, co-authors, publishers, event organisers) and how to develop this dissemination strategy into an action plan.

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