The quandary with open online courses (OOCs) is that at times there is far too data (if you can access it) and so far too many avenues to wander down. Great for my academic career, publications and conference submissions, but not so much for my doctorate where focus is key.
However, 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 OOCs. Very little literature has been dedicated to the engagement of the learner with the content, why they initially engaged with the course (much emphasis is placed on ‘free’ rather than the content, the Lead Educator, the university facilitating the course, how it is delivered and how it can be studied). Thus creating a gap in the academic literature.
A further emerging theme is the emphasis on learning design. Research is growing in the field of formal learning design in the form of modules and qualifications (Rienties, Toetenel, and Bryan 2015), however very little research has been conducted to date on the learning design of OOCs in the same way.
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. The development and distribution of a survey to OOC learners will aid to address the first research question with questions specifically around reasons for attraction and engagement with OOCs.
With regards to the second research question it is possible to undertake a study at The Open University of OOC learning design as all OOCs created for the FutureLearn platform in the academic year of 2014/15 underwent a formal learning design process. Since these OOCs have also undergone a number of presentations each on the FutureLearn platform since their launch it is possible to review learning performance data from these presentations to ascertain whether the learning design had a positive or negative impact on learning performance.
Rienties, B., Toetenel, L., and Bryan, A. (2015). “Scaling up” learning design: impact of learning design activities on LMS behaviour and performance. In: Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge – LAK ’15, ACM, pp.315-319
(Also introducing Toby, my adventure hound and now blog poster boy)