Sunday, November 25, 2012

( #oped12) A need for more research related to MOOCs and a more dynamic publication mechanisms for online education.


A few facts:

A recent call for papers by JOLT with deadline 15th of November 2012 and Guest Editors:George Siemens, Valerie Irvine, Jillianne Code expresses: “A special issue of the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching (JOLT) is planned for Summer 2013 that will address the weak MOOC research base”. In another paragraph it states: “While MOOCs are beginning to burgeon in the higher education space, research in the area is still very limited. For educators, learning designers, and university administrators, making decisions around MOOC design and deployment can be difficult given the lack of published research.”
Observation #1: Note that the call by JOLT remarks: “weak research base”, “limited research and lack of published research”.
On the other hand if a paper is accepted in JOLT by November 30th 2012 it will appear published in June 2013, 7 months later.
In a recent comprehensive paper by Daniels (2012), mostly on x-MOOCs, of the 66 references cited only 3 are from peer reviewed journals and 6 from books. The great majority are newspaper articles and blogs (90%).

Observation #2: I cannot imagine a physics or medicine paper announcing a major breakthrough based on newspaper articles or individual´s blog posts.
The figure shows the cover of the TIMES magazine (October 29th, 2012) that states: “160000 students 1 professor.”

Observation #3: If one takes the quote from Times magazine´s cover of 160.000 and the fact that Coursera has 200 announced courses one could induce that 32 Millon people are simultaneously engaged in their courses!! 

Figure 1 shows the daily unique visitors to the web pages where Coursera/EdX and Udacity learners need to click daily for accessing their courses. (source) gives relative numbers between sites. Khan allows us to gauge the numbers: 0.04 in this scale mean around 100.000 unique visitors.

In Table 1 “participants” is an estimation for the number of learners accessing daily the Coursera/EdX and Udacity courses. The number of courses they offer was obtained from their web site: 198, 8 and 14 respectively. The last column gives us an average estimate for the number of participants in each course if all offered were running simultaneously. 

Number of courses
Simultaneous running
Average participants per course
Table 1
The case of EdX allows a more precise estimate since during the analyzed period it had 4 simultaneous courses running resulting in 12.500 participants in each (average). It is assumed that all students need to access the web page daily. The peaks in the curves indicates the start of a new course or the beginning of the week.

Observation #4: More precise information from learning analytics and more published research are needed.
Some conclusions:

These are just 4 illustrations that exemplify some important issues in online education today.
  • Academic papers whose references are based on blogs and newspaper articles.
  • Numbers quoted by newspapers and blogs that can be totally misleading.
  • More precise information from learning analytics and more published research are needed. 
  • Since the average time it takes for a research paper to get published in a peer reviewed journal is around 4 months, when they do appear they are most probably obsolete.Research in online education needs to change its publishing methodology to a more dynamic format. (If interested in this particular point I have discussed it in more detail in a previous blog post (Rodriguez 2012)). 
tags: #cfhe12, #oped12, CFHE12

  1. Daniels, John, submitted to KNOU (Korean National University, September 25th 2012).
  2. Rodriguez, Osvaldo. Retrieved from 
  3. TIMES MAGAZINE: October 29, 2012.