Professional Learning in Massive Open Online Courses

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

 

  • A study by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University and Harvard University published April 2014 found that massive open online courses (MOOCs) encourage passive learning among professionals.
  • MOOCs miss the opportunity to exploit the knowledge and expertise diverse groups of healthcare professionals bring to the course.
  • The research recommends that MOOC designers focus on capitalising on the diversity of MOOC participants and professionals are encouraged to link MOOC learning with their everyday work practice.
  • The study, funded by the Gates Foundation, was the first to examine learning behaviours of professionals in MOOCs.
  • Findings are available from: http://www.gcu.ac.uk/academy/pl-mooc/findings

 

As healthcare knowledge grows exponentially, health professionals around the world need to continually engage in high quality learning. Health professionals seeking ways to upskill their knowledge are participating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); free, online courses with unlimited participation offered by some of the world’s leading universities. MOOCs enable access to thousands or hundreds of thousands of co-learners, opening up opportunities for new forms of learning.

A recent study found employers generally viewed MOOCs positively for recruiting, hiring and training employees. However, a study by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University, funded by the Gates Foundation, was the first to examine the learning behaviours of professionals in MOOCs.  The findings show MOOCs may encourage passive learning, missing opportunities to exploit the knowledge and expertise diverse groups of professionals bring to the course.

“MOOCs have quickly grown in popularity, but we know very little about whether MOOCs improve learning,” said Professor Allison Littlejohn, (PhD), principal investigator and Director of the Caledonian Academy, a research centre at Glasgow Caledonian University. “Our knowledge of learning in MOOCs is based mainly on anecdotal accounts. The lack of scientific evidence around how people learn in MOOCs is risky, considering the investment of public resources being channeled into MOOCs by universities and governments. We wanted to know if MOOCs allow health professionals to improve their learning and whether there is any impact on their professional practice.”

The researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University worked with educationalists from the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Catalyst, the Harvard Clinical and Translational Science Center. Between November 2013 and February 2014 they surveyed almost 400 participants of ‘Fundamentals of clinical trials’, a MOOC for health professionals offered via the edX platform. The team measured participants’ capability to self-regulate their learning, then interviewed 35 health professionals in 23 countries to investigate their learning behaviours. Lou McGill, a Caledonian Academy researcher, explained, “While MOOC designs take a variety of shapes and forms, the Fundamentals of Clinical Trials MOOC represents a course design typical of the key MOOC providers, therefore we could build some generalizable conclusions.”

“We had an indication of each individual’s capacity to self-regulate their learning and were interested in exploring whether high ability would make a difference in terms of their qualitative learning behaviours within the MOOC,” said Dr Colin Milligan (PhD), co-investigator on the project and researcher within the Caledonian Academy. “We’ve observed that the highly structured MOOC design focuses on content provision, which the participants are very positive about. However the structure does not encourage learners to actively self-regulate their learning. If anything, participants, even those with high self-regulated learning ability, tend to limit their activity to reading and interacting with course content, overlooking opportunities to use the theory they’ve learned to improve their practice.”

Participants had a range of reasons for signing up for the MOOC, ranging from filling gaps in their current knowledge to preparing for future career opportunities. The researchers found that highly self-regulated learners articulated more precise learning goals and expectations compared with low SRL participants, even where their motivations for joining the MOOC were the same. However, when they participated in the course, there were few differences in the behaviours of high and low self-regulated learners. All learners exhibited fairly passive behaviours in the highly structured MOOC environment.

Learners focused on activities such as watching videos and taking tests, with little evidence of learners relating new knowledge into practice, or of connecting to their peers though the discussion board. To be effective, professional learning should provide opportunities to integrate theoretical and practical knowledge. But even those learners who said they wanted to improve their professional practice did not integrate the scientific knowledge they learned through the MOOC with practical, on-the-job learning.

We need a cultural shift around conceptions of learning and teaching and of learner and teacher roles to capitalise on the experience and expertise that professionals bring to their learning.

The data provides a basis for recommendations for the design of MOOCs to support professional learning. The first three focus on improving the link between theory and practice while the second three capitalise on the diversity of the people participating in the MOOC environment, encouraging the development of regulatory expertise.

These recommendations are available from:  http://tinyurl.com/PL-MOOC-recommendations

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