Using Moocs As A Way To Enhance Learning

Abstract

Although they appeared not long ago, MOOC type courses have soared remarkably, judging by their huge number of users. Today there are several MOOC Providers, a few of them working with well-known universities while others work with companies practicing in that field of specialty. The first part of the present paper presents in a descriptive way two of the top MOOC providers, answering the following questions: Who is learning? What is being learnt? Why is it being learnt? How is it learnt? When does the learning take place? The second part of the paper contains a research based on 230 students from the second year of study from the Politehnica University of Bucharest, which aims to emphasize the way in which two MOOC providers assure a consistent learning among students. We want to see to what extent the quality of the learning content of the two online learning platforms influences the course completion rate among investigated students. We are using as research method the social document analysis and the survey based research. The results obtained from data processing indicating the fact that the quality of the learning content influences to a moderate degree the completion rate, most often other contextual and personal factors of users being known to intervene.

Keywords: Learning platformsCourseraedXquality of the learning content

Introduction

Started in 2007 such as development of distance education, MOOC became very popular from

2012 onwards, several MOOC providers appearing, that offer courses in association with top universities.

In the forefront of providers exist names such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, etc. Several universities have

joined this new trend and are considered pioneers (Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, University of

Texas at Austin, MIT, Harvard, University of California at Berkeley, Indian Institute of Technology, etc.). Private companies have also joined this trend with companies like Google and Pearson PLC

investing in these courses. Apart from the impressive number of well-known universities that have

become MOOC providers, the popularity of these is obvious from the large number of users. MOOC

(abbreviation from A Massive Open Online Course) first emerged from Open Educational Resources,

which are documents and media that are openly licensed and that offer free access to teachers, learners for

research purposes. The openness element is a leading trend in distance education (Bozkurt, 2015) MOOC

is a course taught online where any number of people can participate and have open access through a

website. A lot of the content is based on video lectures, as well as text documents and exercises, quizzes

and assignments. Discussions forums are also an important part in creating debates among students and

teachers (Kaplan, Haenlein, 2016). Regarding MOOC characteristics, we mention the fact that MOOCs

are delivered entirely online unlike online programs from universities where blended or hybrid learning is

used. They are open in the sense that they are free and no admission requirements. One does not need to

be a student at the university providing the MOOC in order to participate. Anyone with an internet

connection can register and follow-through the course. Also MOOCs content can be free to be reused and

distributed, depending on the MOOC provider. Also most MOOC courses have university-level subject

matter from university faculty. edX is a massive open online course provider. It holds university-level

courses on a wide array of disciplines targeting worldwide participants, delivers their courses completely

online, in the form of e-learning and some of their courses are delivered for free. edX also runs research

programs to detect how people learn using their platform. edX is different from other Mooc providers

from an organizational point of view, since it is a non-profit organization and also its software foundation

is actually open source and can be reused by any other Mooc provider providing the open source license

stays intact. edX was created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University in 2012.

Since then it was joined by more than 70 schools, non-profit organizations and corporations that offer

courses on their website. AS of March 2016 there are more than 700 courses online and more than 7

million students on edX. Coursera is a for profit company specialized on educational technology that

offers MOOCs. Coursera hosts courses from universities and other organizations just like other MOOC

providers. Coursera is backed by venture capital investments and functions like any other commercial

company and since launching in April 2012 it has gathered more than 15 million students worldwide.

According to our conception, Coursera and edX are the leaders for the platforms of the courses MOOC,

on one side through the authority given by the MOOC providers such as prestige universities and on the

other hand through the quality of the courses with a pronounced applicability of the information received.

Methodology of Research

The present paper aims to emphasize the way in which the two platforms Coursera and edX assure

learning among students. We are operating with the following working hypothesis: We estimate the fact

that the quality of content to be learnt influences to a moderate degree the completion rate of courses by

students that enroll in these 2 platforms.

2.1.Methods of Research

We have used the following research methods: document analysis and survey based research. As a

research method, document analysis assures a diverse range of obtained information, the critical

examination of the value and limits of these important sources of information remaining essential. The

survey based research has the survey as the central element, in other words the written instrument that the

person participating in the research is receiving in traditional form or by e-mail or post. The survey

represents a research technique and instrument, consisting of a series of written questions and perhaps

image that determine in the queried people’s answers that are registered in writing (Chelcea, 2004).

2.2.Structure of the Involved Tool

In the present paper we have realized an analysis of online documents, more exactly the two

platforms: Coursera and edX on a content level, thus being interested to find out: What is being learnt?

Why is the learning taking place? How is the learning organized? Who is learning? When is the learning

taking place? Regarding the structure of our survey, its items have targeted the quality analysis of the

learning content from 2 perspectives: 1. The appeal of learning content. 2. The deepening level of the

learning content by students that participated. The items used to analyze the attractiveness of the targeted

learning content: the type of language used on these 2 platforms (if basic English is used or not), the

explicitness of the learning content (the existents of clear and sufficient explanations) and the relevancy

of the learning content (the scientific value of these and the novelty degree of the information). We have

used pre-codified items that allow an optimal statistical processing. The items used to verify the degree of

deepening of learning content and that come out from the options of students in going through the

learning content, have been built based on the model from Stanford University’s Learning Analytics

group (Kizilcec, Piech, Schneider, 2013) that reveals the depth of interest as a gradual element in 4 stage

as follows: sampling (access to the course with the aim to browse, out of pure curiosity, without a clear

learning-deepening purpose); disengaging (access to the course is provisional from a student’s point of

view, in the sense where they are interested temporarily in the learning content, without finishing and

graduating the course, quitting completely after a while); auditing (access to the course while finishing it,

without choosing an evaluation method as a way to verify the acquired information); completing (access

to the course, with the option to verify the acquired information through: assignments and final exam).

We have used mixed items because they allow a hierarchy of answers, with an open multiple choice test

to assess the motivation for the main option of the depth level.

2.3.Sampling

In our research the sample consist of students from the 2nd year of study. We have used random,

multi-stage sampling. Multi-stage sampling: the first phase where the unit of sampling has been

represented by the University, then in the 2nd phase, the unit of sampling was the faculty (we have

selected 4 faculties from the Politehnica University for our study).

Table 1 -
See Full Size >

Results

3.1.Document Analysis

Through the analysis of online documents, following the succession of the above-mentioned questions,

we have obtained the following results:

-What is being learnt?

By accessing Coursera and edX, we observe both platforms have a series of common fields of

knowledge, as follows: Art & Culture, Life Sciences, Business & Management, Chemistry, Computer

Science, Data Analysis & Statistics, Economics & Finance, Education & Teacher Training, Energy &

Earth Sciences, Engineering, Health, History, Humanities, Language, Law, Math, Medicine, Music,

Philosophy & Ethics, Physics, Science, Social Sciences. edX has a few extra fields of expertise:

Architecture, Communication, Electronics, Literature, while Coursera has the extra Personal

Development section compared to EdX.

-How is learning taking place?

By analyzing the structure of learning content on the 2 platforms, we observe the fact that in both case

is learning done through: text documents; videos (these also have transcripts, English subtitles in the case

the student doesn’t understand the spoken English of the teacher, the voice playback speed can be

modified for easier understanding of what is being taught); interactive assignments , for example: quizzes

(multiple choice tests to verify the information assimilated by participants), assignments, case studies,

forum (students can ask questions to the teacher or to the other participants); self-assessment sheet for the

learning progress (the student has an emphasis on the grades he took for his assignments, of the finished

modules etc.).Coursera offers in addition to participants the possibility to subscribe to the institution

newsletter which promotes itself for receiving information about other courses developed by them.

-When is the learning taking place?

Analyzing the time spent for learning on both platforms, we can observe that from the viewpoint of

learning frequency, weekly learning posters are posted in order to shape the model of the current week.

Moreover, learning takes place synchronously (for some courses, the teachers invite the attendants to a

live chat outside the platform, for instance YouTube live or webinars) and asynchronously (through a

forum mainly).

Why is the learning taking place?

According to the study realized by Stanford University’s Learning analytics group (Kizilcec, Piech,

Schneider, 2013) on the 3 categories of users which are: high schoolers, students, graduates in order to

measure the degree of deepening of current existing MOOC content, as we as the 3 levels: sampling,

disengaging, completing, it results that generally the Sampling level (the access to the purpose of simple

browsing, out of pure curiosity, without a learning-deepening study) is the most frequent among the three

categories of users: 39% highs cool, 74% students, 80% evaluators. Of course there are users that learn to

finish courses and that register or getting the graduation certificates. In order to obtain certificates for

graduating a course, a fee is demanded. In general, the certificate is not accompanied by credit points, but

for a few exceptions. The certificate becomes interesting to employers, proving interest and proactivity

(for example, to enter a new field of activity, these certificates are well received by employers. A

mechanical engineering graduate that wants to work in a programming position, entry level, in the future

will have higher chances if they have a few certificates from Coursera and edX. Who is learning?

The participants of these platforms are from all age categories. Age restrictions and initial training are

not imposed. The trainers are all well documented professors from University. The participants of these

platforms are from the same age groups. The trainers are teachers from other Universities with rather

stress.

3.2.The survey Based Research

The survey aimed to analyze the quality of the learning content from 2 perspectives: attractiveness of

the learning content and the degree of depth of the learning content by the course students. From the

processing of the items used for analysis the attractiveness of the learning content results in the following:

From the point of view of the language used on these 2 platforms, data shows that the biggest number of

students (209) consider that they use basic English, that facilitates understanding of content to be

acquired.

Table 2 -
See Full Size >

Also, the clarity of the content to be acquired is facilitating in the students’ opinions (198) as well

as the existence of sufficiently explain features.

Table 3 -
See Full Size >

Analyzing the relevancy of the learning content from the viewpoint of their scientific value and the

degree of information novelty, it turns out that there have been grades of high scientific value (132) and

very high (82) and the same time a high informational value (112) and very high (83) in the opinion of

respondents (table 4 and 5).

Table 4 -
See Full Size >
Table 5 -
See Full Size >

From processing the items used to verify the degree of depth of the learning content, it turns out

the following options of students in going through the learning content were most present, while they

show the depth of their interest in 4 stages: sampling (10,4%, disengaging (29,5%), auditing (49,4%),

completing (10,7).

Table 6 -
See Full Size >

Interpretation

We have considered the fact that, the quality of learning content is determined by: the language

used on these 2 platforms, because users are people from all categories of age and preparation, using

simple English allows accessibility to existing content; explicitness of the learning content – curricular

design based on clear and sufficient explanations making intelligible all the existing content; the

relevancy of the learning content – information having to bring scientific and novelty added value in

order to have credibility and attractiveness among users. From the viewpoint of the language used on

these 2 platforms, data shows that most students (209) consider they use a simple English, that facilitates

the understanding of content to be learnt. Also, how intelligible content to be acquired is, is directly facilitated by the platforms in the students’ opinions (198) as well as the existence of clear and sufficient

explanations. Analysing the relevancy of learning content, it turns out that they have high scientific value

(132) and very high (82), as well as a degree of high information novelty (112) and very high (83). The

most attractive courses for the students, in the access point of view, were according to their responses in

the following fields of knowledge: Business & Management, Computer Science, Personal development.

It results from the presented values, the fact that, for respondents, the learning content currently

existing on Coursera and edX are of high and very high quality. Our work hypothesis „we estimate the

fact that the quality of content to be learnt influences to a moderate degree the completion rate of courses

by students that enroll in these 2 platforms” is confirmed. According to resulted data, although the quality

of existing content on Coursera and edX is a high and very high one in the opinion of investigated

students, the rate of completing the courses are moderate. Therefore, from the processing of the items

used to verify the degree of deepening of learning content the following options of students add up:

sampling (10,4%, disengaging (29,5%), auditing (49,4%), completing (10,7). Full completion of the

courses, students had registered into, in other words accessing the course with the option to verify the

information learnt through assignments and a final exam result in level 4 – completing, which has a share

of 10.7%. Completing the courses according to level 3 – auditing, means accessing the course with

finalizing it, without requesting any form of evaluation as a method of verifying acquired information,

and this is the most frequent level in investigated students. 29,5% of the investigated students are on level

3 – disengaging, a level of deepening existing content on Coursera and edX which signifies accessing the

course with a partial interest by the student, in the sense that the student is temporarily interesting in the

learning content, without wishing to actually complete it, and quitting for good after a while. Analyzing

the motivation of student participants on these 2 platforms, regarding the option of a high level of

deepening of learning content (in this case level 3 – auditing), they argument that they want to follow-

through information in their own rhythm, without verification, to practice the university learning type

which is different to the one they have in their faculty where they are present as students (learning that is

always followed by grades and exams). The students claim that their interest for the two platform courses

Coursera and edX, is based upon their needs to complete the information within the fields of interest for

them and not upon the suggestions and recommendations of some teachers. Students that have chosen to a

share of 29.5% the level 2 – disengaging, motivate their option through the fact that their interest for

learning content is lost after a while not because they would be of low quality, but because of the fact

they don’t give way to student-typical stimuli, forgetting or postponing until forgetting to actually finish

the course.

Conclusions

Although the 2 platforms edX and Coursera are used frequently by students, they see these 2

platforms as the alternative learning platform, a much easier way of going through information of interest

without being evaluated at the end of it. The reason for which the completion rate of courses is a

moderate one is that the approach being mostly chosen is that of a rigorous procedure needed before

actual completion. The most attractive courses for the students, in the access point of view, were

according to their responses in the following fields of knowledge: Business & Management, Computer

Science, Personal development. Full completion of the courses, students had registered into, in other words accessing the course with the option to verify the information learnt through assignments and a

final exam result in level 4 – completing, which has a share of 10.7%. Completing the courses according

to level 3 – auditing, means accessing the course with finalizing it, without requesting any form of

evaluation as a method of verifying acquired information, and this is the most frequent level in

investigated students. Analyzing the motivation of student participants on these 2 platforms, regarding the

option of a high level of deepening of learning content (in this case level 3 – auditing), they argument that

they want to follow-through information in their own rhythm, without verification, to practice the

university learning type which is different to the one they have in their faculty where they are present as

students (learning that is always followed by grades and exams). The students claim that their interest for

the two platform courses Coursera and edX, is based upon their needs to complete the information within

the fields of interest for them and not upon the suggestions and recommendations of some teachers. A

few of the students are users that learn to finish courses and that register or getting the graduation

certificates, these certificate being very well received by their employers, proving interest and proactivity.

References

  1. Bozkurt, A., Ozbek, E.A., Yilmazel, S., Erdogdu, E., Hasan,E., Guler, E., … Aydin, H.C. (2015).
  2. Trends in Distance Education Research: A Content Analysis of Journals 2009-2013. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(1),330-341.
  3. doi:10.19173/irrodl.v16i1.1953Chelcea, S. (2004). Metodologia cercetării sociologice. Metode cantitative şi calitative, ediţia a II-a. Bucureşti: Editura Comunicare.ro.
  4. Kaplan A. M., Haenlein M. (2016). Higher education and the digital revolution: About MOOCs, SPOCs, social media, and the Cookie Monster. Business Horizons, Journal of the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, 59(4), 441–450. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2016.03.008 Kizilcec, R., Piech, C., Schneider, E. (2013). Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner subpopulations in massive open online courses. Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge, 170-179. doi:10.1145/2460296.2460330 www.coursera.org www.edx.org

Copyright information

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

About this article

Cite this paper as:

Click here to view the available options for cite this article.

Publisher

Future Academy

First Online

18.12.2019

Doi

10.15405/epsbs.2017.05.02.117

Online ISSN

2357-1330