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Centre for Online and Distance Education

The impact of MOOC learning on professional practice


Written by
Pete Cannell

Pete Cannell reports on a session at the RIDE 2019 conference.

Myrrh Domingo, Amos Paran, Andrea Révész and Alessandra Palange from the UCL Institute of Education Department of Culture, Communication and Media presented a systematic evaluation of a Coursera MOOC that they had developed. ‘Teaching EFL/ESL reading: a tasked based approach’ was designed to provide professional development for language teachers. Task-based learning is growing in popularity around the world but is normally used in developing speaking skills. This MOOC is distinctive in focusing on reading.

The presenters argued that professional development in their field is under-researched. Although there are very specific issues for language teachers, I found that their approach to evaluation was of more general interest; their findings resonated strongly with my own experience of developing and using online courses for professional development.

Evaluation of online courses is complex and contested. The presenters used data from course analytics, a survey of participants and a small number of in depth semi-structured interviews to explore what constitutes success. Is it completion of course activities? Or do we measure success in terms of student perception of relevance and usefulness?

In a nuanced and thoughtful discussion, the presenters explained that the percentage of learners completing the course was low, which is common for MOOCs. In general, students seemed to prefer the more ‘traditional’ transmission mode activities; the discussion forums were least popular. A significant percentage reported that studying the course had changed or influenced their professional practice.

The results challenged understanding of success and completion. Equal numbers of completers and non-completers were interviewed; non-completers reported that the course had still had had an impact on their professional practice.

The research opened up questions about engagement, discussion and support in online professional practice. Course designers tend to assume that debate and discussion happens in forums provided within the confines of the course. However, students - particularly those studying for professional development - access content online but within their specific social settings. In some cases colleagues (or their own students) may also be studying the course. But even when this is not the case the presenters noted that learners will want to talk about the new ideas and concepts that they are grappling with, and professional settings provide opportunities to do so.

I really enjoyed the presentation and the approach taken by the IoE team seems to me to be one that could usefully be extended in scale and across other disciplines. The combination of qualitative, student centred evidence with analytic data provides insights that could have a powerful influence on learning design.