Study Strategies in a MOOC

Using the Community of Inquiry framework (CoI; for review, see Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007) as a survey instrument, Kovanović et al. (2019) examined learners’ perceived level of social, teaching, and cognitive presence in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Three learner clusters were first identified based on learners’ level of course engagement: i) limited users, ii) selective users, and iii) broad users.

Limited users made up the largest number of learners in the MOOC. They were characterized by low level course engagement and lack of participation in online discussions. Based on the pre-course survey, limited users reported significantly lower level of determination to learn than the other two groups. Analysis of the log files showed that limited users focused mainly on video lectures without completing the graded assignments nor did they have intentions to use extra materials or join study groups. Most of the limited users obtained final grades that ranged from 0% to 10%. There were no significant differences in the different aspects of social and teaching presences of CoI. However, limited users reported lower levels of resolution phase in perceived cognitive presence than learners in the other two groups. Although limited users reported intentions to participate in online discussion, they did not participate in any discussions. The authors suggested that limited users were likely learners who lacked self-regulated learning (SRL) skills needed for participating in the online discussions. 

Selective users were characterized by average level of course engagement and low level of discussion activity with a main focus on obtaining course certificates. They were more strategic and focused in their tool use, whereby they worked on graded assignments apart from viewing video lectures. Even though they were more engaged than limited users, they also did not actively contribute to the online discussions. Instead, selective users used the online discussions as a ‘static’ resource. Selective users reported higher levels of resolution phase in perceived cognitive presence than limited users but were on par with broad users. The authors argued that the higher level of cognitive presence was likely a function of higher commitment level due to professional interest. 

Broad users were characterized by high level of course engagement. They used all the available course resources and obtained the highest grade among the three groups, ranging from 80% to 100%. Broad users were more likely to use extra materials in the course and join study groups than learners in the other two groups. Broad users’ high level of participation in the course suggest that they were more aware of successful study strategies and were using deep approaches to learn. 

The authors recommended different instructional support for the three learner clusters. For limited users, interventions can focus on encouraging and enhancing participation in online discussion. For selective users, interventions can focus on promoting mastery learning. Since broad users are already highly engaged in the course, they may benefit from taking active roles, such as student moderators. 

Although it is difficult to account for all factors that potentially affect learning in MOOCs, a large set of variables (e.g., determination to complete, study strategies, cognitive presence, number of videos played) was clearly defined and measured in the Kovanović et al.’s (2019) study. This presents a rather cohesive picture of learning in a MOOC and adds to the understanding of the different group of learners in MOOCs. To date, only a small number of studies have examined interventions in MOOCs. More research in MOOCs in needed to understand how learners can benefit from instructional support and how to provide support to different groups of learners. 

Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. The Internet and Higher Education10(3), 157-172.

Kovanović, V., Joksimović, S., Poquet, O., Hennis, T., de Vries, P., Hatala, M., ... & Gašević, D. (2019). Examining communities of inquiry in Massive Open Online Courses: The role of study strategies. The Internet and Higher Education40, 20-43


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