Where is research on MOOCs headed?

The aim of this blog is to help me understand online learning. There is a new book “Preparing for the Digital University: a review of the history and current state of distance, blended and online learning.” G. Siemens, D. Gasevic and S. Dawson are working on a project of the MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) funded by the Gates Foundation. The goal of MRI was to mobilize researchers to engage into critical interrogation of MOOCs. The writers have gathered a big amount of research and built a frame for describing the situation until now. Siemens is a Canadian in Texas (MRI), Gasevic in Edinburgh and Dawson in Australia and the project seems to be global. The material they have used in the analysis comes mainly from North America, perhaps because of the language. They began from the autumn 2011, when Stanford University began its global MOOCs.

The paper is an exploration of MOOCs; what they are, how they are reflected in literature, who is doing research, the types of research undertaken and why the hype of MOOCs has not yet been reflected in a meaningful way on campuses around the world. Much of the early research into MOOCs has been in the form of institutional reports by projects, which offered many useful insights but did not have the rigor, methodological or theoretical,  expected for peer-reviewed publication in online learning and education. I was, as a learner, disappointed with this condition. Now the writers explored a range of articles and sources, and settled on using the MOOC Research Initiative as the dataset. I follow the part “Where is research on massive open online courses headed?” They report the ways which were used in collecting the materials. I am not very interested in assessing how well it includes everything – it never does- but I am interested in the content and the themes.

The results revealed the main research themes that could form a framework of the future MOOC research:

  • student engagement and learning success
  • MOOC design and curriculum
  • self-regulated learning and social learning
  • social network analysis and networked learning
  • motivation, attitude and success criteria.

The submissions were dominated by the researchers from the field of education (75% of the accepted proposals). There is need to increased efforts towards enhancing interdisciplinarity. Keywords was the concept most often used when they describe their categories. Computers can find words, it is true. Quantitative and mixed methods were used more than qualitative methods. Both Gasevic and Dawson have developed methods for social network analysis and learning analytics. I list for myself some topics which may be worth following and further exploration.

Engagement and learning success: the main topics in this cluster are related to learners’ participation, engagement, and behavioral patterns in MOOCs . Peer learning and peer assessment. Self-regulated and social learning and social identity were topics which analysed cognitive learning strategies and motivational factors and wanted to reveal students at risk. Social network analysis  and networked learning: identifying central hubs in a course or improving possibilities for students to gain employment skills. Learners’ interactions profiles may be analysed in order to reveal different patterns of interaction between learners and instructors. Motivation attitude and success criteria: diverse motivational aspects and course completion. I have done my own observations about these themes while participating on many MOOCs. I have to check the material in order to find the most interesting results.

Putting it shortly: the book seems to lack theoretical underpinnings and it is very North American, they know MRI and Gates. But I am glad that research is supported and I’ll follow next projects as well as LAK conferences. Here you can read what the Chronicle of Higher Education said about the report. They call George Mr not a Dr and I suppose they do it on purpose. It is not easy to change one’s role 🙂