I attended the Research and Innovation in Distance Education and eLearning (RIDE) conference in March, and a session I found particularly interesting was a presentation by Stylianos Hatzipanagos and Alan Tait, from the University of London, about MOOCs and their unintentional consequences for learning and teaching.
Numbers of MOOCs, and learners taking them, have been steadily growing over the past five years, and there are many benefits to both learners and institutions. We have found at Leicester that they provide a valuable platform to extend brand awareness and showcase our learning, teaching and research, as well as acting as ‘taster’ short courses to encourage recruitment to our degree programmes.
One of the greatest benefits, however, is the opportunity MOOCs give us for innovation in learning and teaching. They allow us to keep pace with changes in technology enhanced learning and innovative pedagogies, and the large number of learners provides us with a low cost and low risk way of trying out new pedagogical approaches, or even piloting new courses. MOOCs have given us an opportunity to think about both distance and campus-based learning in fresh ways. There have been many changes over the last decade in learning technology; meaning distance learning has become more mainstream, and people expect to be able to access simple effective learning from anywhere, through storytelling, discussion, and community support.
Hatzipanagos and Tait have previously researched learning design characteristics of MOOCs that are essential for independent learning and student support, and the extent to which these are implicit or explicit in the design of MOOCs, and how they are embedded in the MOOC platform. They found that academic staff had some of their ideas challenged within the MOOC environment, and the constraints of the MOOC platform allowed them to become more creative with their learning design.
This prompted them to begin to inquire into the impact of the experience of designing MOOCs on campus-based teaching. They identified that the effect of MOOCs can be direct, for example, when MOOCs are embedded in the distance learning curriculum. But the impact can also be indirect and unintended – when learning design features of MOOCs challenge and enrich ‘traditional’ and more established teaching practices in distance learning environments.
They have interviewed eight colleagues in different University of London institutions and asked them whether their involvement with MOOCs has had any impact on their mainstream teaching and in what ways. They also asked whether working on MOOCs has changed their professional priorities in teaching and research.
Preliminary results have showed that MOOC work has reinforced an interest in learning and teaching and has increased commitment to pedagogy. The experience of designing MOOCs has ‘demystified’ and normalised online learning, and many have used materials created for the MOOCs in campus classes, sometimes using a flipped classroom approach.
This correlates with our findings at Leicester and reinforces our believe that applying a MOOC methodology to curriculum design can be very beneficial, in particular in improving student engagement through active learning.
Jess Gifkins, a Research Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, says ‘The drop-off in concentration can be limited by using a different approach to learning each 15 minutes (which means changing the way students are engaged, rather than changing topics). Active learning promotes recall and deeper understanding of material, as students are engaging with the content rather than simply listening to it.’1 MOOCs naturally build in active learning techniques in short focused activities, but these can be equally applied to a lecture or other classroom setting relatively easily.
In conclusion, Hatzipanagos and Tait have found that MOOCs seem to influence attitudes to online learning and teaching, and this has been embedded into more ‘traditional’ approaches with, for example, engagement with flipped classroom activities and embracing the use of multimedia. Designing MOOCs has resulted in changing attitudes towards, and acceptance of, peer learning, reinstating automated assessment as a ‘valid’ assessment format, and greater evaluation of practice.
Here are the LLI we would like to harness these ‘unintended’ outcomes of MOOCs and build upon them to enhance our mainstream provision. We recently held a workshop, ‘A MOOC approach to active learning and student engagement’, and plan to run this again soon. If you are interested in attending please contact Rachel Tunstall at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send more details when they are available.
1 What is ‘Active Learning’ and why is it important? Jess Gifkins, 8 October 2015