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).
This progress report concentrates solely on the development of methodology for conducting the main study.
- Summary of Impact of Literature with Regards to Initial Study
In counter to the evidence of the initial study, the literature gave strong emphasis to the need for participant engagement (Clouse and Evans (2003), Coppola et al (2002), Marks et al (2005) and Swan 2002), peer influence (Yang et al. 2014) and socially conducive environments (Rosé et al. 2014), giving indication to the need for collaborative activities for positive learning outcomes (Gunawardena and Zittle (1997) and Rovai (2002) in particular the types of learner interaction classified by More (1989) as learner-instructor, learner-learner, and learner-content. It may be possible that the results of the initial study, as it is a small sample, may have produced an anomaly of favour towards the anti-social learner-content which counters this literature, to which further exploration within the main study is required. It may be possible as found with Caspi, Gorksy and Chajut (2003) that the majority of students contributed to a small amount of messages, or that learners had difficulty finding interesting discussion opportunities (Yang et al. 2014) and that in the situation of the small sample may have only highlighted this pattern of activity.
There are links to be made between motivation and engagement as motivation is multidimensional and multilevel in construct (Boaekaerts, 1997). Though Tai (2008) states that strong motivation is a prerequisite for online learning, it is in the field of formal study, if learners are choosing OOCs for personal developments and leisure learning then the level of motivation may differ to that of an online student studying towards a formal qualification. Whilst a teacher seems to hold a strong presence in face-to-face learning (Roth et al (2007) and Legault et al (2006) and Junco (2012) this doesn’t seem to translate into the findings of the initial study with learners rating alternative features before Lead Educators and Facilitators.
Interestingly whilst Rienties et al (2009) found that learners that were highly extrinsically motivated contributed less actively to what Veerman and Veldhuis-Diermanse (2001) consider to be ‘social contributions’ this would aid in the explanation of the ranking of the importance of social engagement within the initial study.
In researching engagement versus performance Aguiar et al. (2014) noted that the understanding of retention has changed considerably over time, and therefore more complex than initially quantified. This theory is important to the understanding and answering of the research questions as given the heterogeneity of the learners (Lackner et al. (2015), the understanding of retention and completion may vary considerably within the learners community in contrast to that of the academic and the quantifying of performance with (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006).
Whilst Gibbs and Simpson (2004) have argued that assessment has a positive effect on student’s learning and engagement within traditional teaching environments, this is not a pattern depicted in the results of the initial study. Within the main study a clearer pattern is expected to develop, the requirement for further analysis of this statement would be required through post-survey interviews to ascertain whether it is a strong requirement for learning design of OOCs.
- Research Questions and Hypothesis from Initial Study
3.1 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:
- Why do people engage, and remain engaged in free open online courses?
- 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.
3.2 Hypothesis of Initial Study
In the analysis of the data a one-tailed test may be applied to test the hypothesis that those learners associating engagement with open courses as related to an extrinsic professional or academic goal in comparison to a leisure learner, are more likely to engage with the course until completion, with leisure learners being more succinct and sporadic in their engagement strategy. The analysis of the data should define whether variables, such as academic and professional current positioning and future goals bear any relation to the learners perception of, and engagement with the open courses and what linear or non-linear relationships can be drawn from this.
Furthermore, due to recent events in the media an additional hypothesis has emerged that learner engagement goes beyond learning design and is also determined by population of the course and number of presentations of the course (Gore, 2015). Questions within the survey have been adapted to address this hypothesis which will be further addressed in follow-up interviews.