Moocs: know your audience and brush up your skills

HEA study offers tips drawn from first-hand accounts of both participants and course creators. Plus the latest higher education appointments

February 5, 2015

Source: Getty

Put it across: Moocs can help scholars get their message out, study says

Creating massive open online courses, or Moocs, has been vaunted as an effective way for educators to widen participation and academically engage with new audiences.

The popularity of such courses, which are typically free, is rising steadily. However, many in the higher education sector have expressed concern at Moocs’ high dropout rates and increasing evidence that many participants are not sufficiently engaged.

Research published last month by the Higher Education Academy has presented insights into why learners choose to study using Moocs and what key aspects need to be addressed when designing the courses.

Launching the study, Alison Le Cornu, consultant in academic practice at the HEA, said that although Moocs were “increasingly popular…as change and innovation occurs, it is important not to lose sight of the learner”.

The report, Liberating Learning: Experiences of MOOCs, draws on the personal accounts of 10 people who completed one of the Moocs offered by the University of Southampton in 2014 via the social learning platform FutureLearn. In addition, it obtained input from five academics involved in leading, developing and teaching on the courses.

The study was authored by four Southampton researchers – Julie Wintrup, Kelly Wakefield, Debra Morris and Hugh Davis – who found that the individuals taking the courses said they “particularly valued the unconditional and free nature of their learning” and their motives were “primarily for intellectual stimulation and personal development”.

However, the researchers also found that academics looking to become involved in the design of the online courses would require new skills to make them work and training in how to manage online interactions and debates.

Knowledge of the kind of learners using the Moocs was vital, Dr Wakefield told Times Higher Education. At present, many of those engaging in online courses are older, experienced learners.

“Having that knowledge is definitely a skill,” she said. “Having said that, who knows if the demographic of a Mooc learner will change over time?”

According to Dr Wakefield, the transition to designing Moocs may be easier for some academics, with those who are “tech-savvy and have a lot of online resources” best placed for running online courses. Nevertheless, she said, all course leaders need to keep drawing on feedback from experienced online learners to create even better courses.

Dr Wintrup, a principal teaching fellow in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Southampton, said academics looking to get involved in Moocs often have “an interest in the online form of pedagogy” but they need to understand that the courses are “not simply an information approach – it is more than just a lecture”.

She said it also helped for academics to think of Moocs in terms of their “personal research”, as designing such courses could help them to “get their message out [and] engage with specialist groups”.

As to the ongoing debate on whether Moocs will reach a wider audience and ultimately transform the way universities teach, Professor Davis argued that “it’s already happening quietly” as ever more universities begin to develop resources intended for online learning.

He added that at Southampton, “all the developers who have made use of Moocs have changed their attitude to online learning”.

Appointments

The Institute of Food Research has named Ian Charles its new director. Professor Charles returns to the UK from Australia where he is currently director of the ithree institute at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Julia Clarke and Janet Haddock-Fraser have been named to senior posts at Manchester Metropolitan University. In the roles of provost and dean, Professor Haddock-Fraser will lead operations at the Cheshire campus. In June, Ms Clarke will become pro vice-chancellor and dean of the Faculty of Business and Law.

John Wilson is to become the new principal and chief executive officer of the Sino-British College in Shanghai, a university college jointly run by nine UK universities and the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology.

The University of Bradford has announced the creation of 10 new chairs to mark its 50th anniversary. The new professors are: Allan Kellehear, professor of end-of-life care; Ann Cunliffe, professor of organisational studies; Francesco Menotti, professor of archaeology; Jackie Ford, professor of leadership; Marian Gheorghe, professor of software engineering and computational models; Martin Priest, professor of tribology; Mohamed El-Tanani, professor of molecular oncology and cancer therapeutics; Richard Morgan, professor of molecular oncology; Vince Gaffney, professor of landscape archaeology; and Yakun Guo, professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest