Friday, March 9, 2012

Two distinct course formats in the delivery of MOOCs.

MOOCs have been carried out with great success during the last years. Examples are CCK08, PLENK2010, MobiMOOC (2011), EduMOOC (2011), Change11, and LAK12. Their implementation requires conceptual changes in perspective from both “facilitators” (tutors) and learners. They are so novel that much research needs to be done for their understanding. 

Basically 2 very distinct delivery formats have been used:

  • Those that use what’s called an aggregator: a newsletter called “The Daily”.
  • Those where all events go through a “centralizing” web page and discussions happen with the use of a mailing list: in most cases using Google Groups.

Each of these will of course have a different impact on the behavior of learner’s experience and the outcome of the course.

In this blog I expose some ideas on studying this problem.

How many participate in MOOCs

For our discussion it is important to understand how many participate in MOOCs and of these how many are active and how many take a passive role behind the scenes. Lurker is the term used for the latter.

In a recent post Geoge Siemens (see reference 1) gave the following numbers and pattern of participant’s behavior for “change11” but these could be considered representative of all MOOCs.

“The Change MOOC has about 2400 participants, yet we typically get about 40 participants per live sessions, 5-10 blog posts a day, and 20+ daily tweets related to the course. Some are active throughout the course (though when I did an analysis on CCK08, only a few of the most active participants in week 1 were still in the top ten by week 12), some have spurts of activity, and others subscribe to the daily but don’t engage in ways that are visible to us as facilitators. Consistently, as the course progresses, active participation declines.”

Delivery formats

Format 1:

Many MOOCs have utilized a daily newsletter named “The Daily” which basically aggregates contributions from all blogs (or other resources) from participants tagged in a certain way. Examples are CCK08, PLEN2010, Change11 and LAK12.
In these cases it is nearly impossible to track learner’s behavior except for those that are active participants. The work of Rita Kop in Plenk2010 represented an exception since an effort to track lurkers behavior was done by implementing surveys and other strategies.

Those that participate as “active”, have a certain degree of expertise in the course domain and confidence in exposing their writings.
Lurkers seem to restrain to make any kind of appearance but will burst into a blog if that post (announced through The Daily) is of interest. The number of lurkers at any time can be as high as 50% of registered participants.
These MOOCs follow in part a pattern similar to that described in Reference 2: “the MOOC mirrors a discussion at a conference, in a research lab, or in a workshop”.

Format 2:

Some MOOCs employ a “centralizing “web page used by the facilitators for announcing all activities and a mailing list open to contributions from participants(mostly Google Groups). Threads on different subjects are opened and continuously a participant receives the new contributions to the different threads.
Examples are MobiMOOC (2011) (556 registered) and EduMOOC (2011) (2700 registered).
Since adding an opinion or just a comment to some discussion thread does not need to show expertise, a dormant lurker becomes active just in those occasions. Participants get to know each other more since these occasional appearances of lurkers makes them visible.
This second format is closer to the idea of “eventedness” described in Reference 2: “The course members resemble the people in a corner having an in-depth discussion that others can choose to enter. Enough structure is provided by the course that if a learner is interested in the topic, he or she can build sufficient language and expertise to participate peripherally or directly. The more people who walk over to talk, the better the chance will be that people will contribute to the conversation”.

Dropout rate.

Finally, let me introduce a small comment on the dropout rate.
In reference 2, Cormiere and Siemens write:
 “The most disconcerting issue for many educators running an open course is the drop-out rate”. 
And in reference 1:
“While active participation in our courses declines as the course progresses, subscribers to the Daily increase. I’m not sure what to make of that. If I was getting five emails a week on something I wasn’t interested in, I would unsubscribe. Does that mean we can view Daily subscribers as a) people are still engaged, b) people can’t find the unsubscribe link, or c) that we’ve subjected over 15,000 people to guilt about not being active in MOOCs?”

The answer to the last question is a) (people are still engaged) and in reality the most disconcerting issue to those running a course comes from not realizing that lurkers might conform a high percentage (difficult to quantify precisely) of those registered.

Tag for #change11 and  #lak12

  2. Cormier, D., & Siemens, G. (2010). Through the open door: Open courses as research, learning, and engagement. Educause, 45 (4), 30-39. Retrieved October 20th, 2010 from: 

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