Category Archives: Hannah Gore

Year One Final Report – Open Online Courses

Before understanding the development of open online courses, it is important first to understand the development of open content collectively known as OER (Open Educational Resources). The development of such resources became parallel to the development of open licences and software, such as Creative Commons, Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Open Source Software, allowing content to be built on the ideals of open and sharing.

There have been a range of open education projects over the years; Internet Archive, Connexions, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, MIT OpenCourseWare, WikiEducator, and OpenLearn to name but a few. Each of these initiatives are different in the content that they host and but their principle ideas for open education remain the same. The sustainability of OER has been called into question with Downes (2006) citing a range of possible options for models to ensure the longevity of open education; Membership, Endowment, Conversion, Donations, Contributor-Pay, Institutional, Sponsorship, Governmental and Partnerships and Exchanges.

The models primarily used by The Open University are; Endowment, Conversion, Sponsorship, Institutional, Governmental, and Partnerships and Exchanges. The use of such models has allowed for the development of OpenLearn, OpenLearnWorks, SocialLearn, and the foundations of the partner model of FutureLearn. This model has then expanded to include the hosting of its content through its channels on third party platforms such as iTunes U, YouTube, Google Play, Audioboom, Bibblio, SlideShare, Faculti, and Amazon.

The Open University produces and releases OER through the social mission outlined in its Royal Charter and through the development of OpenLearn hosts in access of 800 open online courses including BOCs (Badged Open Courses) and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). BOCs have been based on the principles of MOOCs but with the awarding of a digital badge at the centre of its recognition proposition.

The history of MOOCs is one of rapid evolution in a short timescale and noted as still evolving (Mackness, Mak, and Williams 2010). In 2008, Stephen Downes (2011) and George Siemens (2005) launched “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008” (CCK8), a for-credit course at the University of Manitoba, Canada. The course pushed the boundaries of connectivism (‘knowledge distributed across a network of connections’ (Downes, 2007) with a larger learner cohort with Siemens and Downes (2011) utilising a range of platforms from blogs, forums, and wikis to Facebook groups. With over 2,200 registrations, this allowed learners to be part of a large, organic but interconnected learner community, while independently maintaining their own personal learning environments (PLEs) (Siemens 2013).

In response to this event, Dave Cormier (University of Prince Edward Island) and Bryan Alexander (National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education) coined the term “MOOC” or Massive Open Online Course (Daniel, 2012). In principle, they consider a MOOC denoted as:

  • Massive: as registration is not capped (with enrolment of some courses exceeding 100,000 students)
  • Open: to take advantage of widely available OER and open registration (though some MOOCs have pre-requisites, and for-fee registrations, examinations, or certificate costs associated)
  • Online: with no requirement for face-to-face attendance, and
  • Course: the concept of a pedagogically designed learning journey.

In addition to MOOCs, open online courses in a perpetual context will be considered as variations of the MOOC/open online course model. These have a plethora of acronyms associated with them, however for the purposes of this research these courses will be collectively known as open online courses (OOCs) as the commonality of such courses is that they are open (in various forms), online and maintain a course structure. As there has been a great academic interest in MOOCs a range of papers have been published analysing different elements of the courses. It is from these papers that literature has been reviewed primarily due to the range in subject and research methodology used and statistics collated.

As the engagement of learners on this open online courses will be the focus of this research the next section will identify what is meant by engaging in informal learning, the literature currently available and how this then leads onto the impact on learning design of the open online courses as a result of the research.

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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.

Spare, Spare Time

As my followers on Twitter know I fill most of my daily life being the Senior Producer: Social & Syndication for The Open University and that my doctorate I’m undertaking on a three year programme (which is what this blog is about) in my spare time.  

Well what about my spare, spare time? 

Normally, completely sane people choose to have a hobby or an interest, or just instead stare out of the window. Not me, I’ve never been the sit still, thumb twiddling type – as those that know me can contest, I make for a rubbish patient. 

So when an opportunity came up to work for my Pro-Vice Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) as her Doctorate Research Assistant for the ICDE Research and Innovation Taskforce Project I jumped at the chance (and given that I’m 5’10 and wear 4″ heels, that’s pretty high). 

The focus of the R&I Taskforce is to:

  • Initiate a meta-study on the state of research and innovation in open, distance, flexible, and online education, including e-learning
  • Identify the grand challenges of research in open, distance, flexible and online education, including e-learning
  • Encourage cooperation amongst ICDE members on research and innovation (R&I), and
  • Advice the ICDE Executive Committee on R&I issues 

And also it means I will be working with the powerhouse of knowledge that is Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology in IET on campus (he has a penchant for biscuits, of which the producing of may be in my favour…). 

Meanwhile whilst all this was kicking off and I was settling into the my new spare, spare time role I had an email from the Director of International Development and Teacher Education in FELS (Faculty of Education and Language Studies) at the OU who is leading on another ICDE project on student success making enquiries about whether I was able to support him on the development of his survey and evaluation for his project. This is now my new spare, spare, spare time activity and I couldn’t be happier as both relate to my doctorate and also my research will hopefully be able to aid the projects. 

So…as I have successfully achieved filling all my spare time and saved myself from RSI from repeated thumb twiddling, I’ve hired a gardener. To be honest my plants are probably grateful. 

For now, I’m still…

Doctor in Waiting