Moodle research

MOOC research, history and future questions

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MOOC research, history and future questions
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Moodle has long been involved in MOOCs, although it is not as synonymous with the notion as other systems. There have been a number of efforts to promote Moodle as a MOOC platform and hopefully that will continue in future.

For myself, and for the benefit of the community, I have been doing a bit of a literature survey regarding MOOCs. I thought I would share this here and hopefully prompt some discussion and further sharing.

Themes of MOOC research

There are a number of themes in MOOC research.

  • The potential for MOOCs to "disrupt" traditional forms of education and the reaction to that notion
    • Optimistic view: democratising and improving education (or at least adding a rich source for investigation)
    • Pessimistic view: circumventing established mechanisms without proper investigation
  • Success ("survival") rates in MOOCs
    • What this means in relation to traditional courses
    • What can be done to increase this
  • Means of teaching MOOCs without direct involvement of teachers, while maintaining quality

Some cited and selected papers

Here are some references to MOOC research. It's from a mix of sources (academic, newpaper, Web), so it's not viewed from a solely academic perspective.

Research works related to MOOCs
Reference Summary Link
Jordan, K. (2014). Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 15(1).
  • Quote: The average MOOC course is found to enroll around 43,000 students, 6.5% of whom complete the course.
  • Quote: Enrolment numbers are decreasing over time and are positively correlated with course length.
  • Quote: ...It emphasizes that it is inappropriate to compare completion rates of MOOCs to those in traditional bricks-and-mortar
    institution-based courses.
  • Dominance of Coursera in top enrolled courses covered
Jordan, K. (2013) MOOC completion rates: The data.
  • Ongoing MOOC data collection website
  • Low completion rates indicated
  • Quote: The highest completion rate achieved was 19.2%… The majority of MOOCs had completion rates of less than 10%
Yang, D., Sinha, T., Adamson, D., & Rose, C. P. (2013). Turn on, tune in, drop out: Anticipating student dropouts in massive open online courses. In Proceedings of the 2013 NIPS Data-Driven Education Workshop (Vol. 11, p. 14).
  • Attempts to find predictors of "survival", focussed on social network analysis (SNA)
  • Lots of significant correlations, but suggest authority (those who engage others in discussion) as strongest predictor
    • Quote: In the final model, the hazard ratio assigned to Authority is .67, which indicates that Authority scores that are 1 standard deviation higher than average indicate that the student is 33% less likely to drop out on that week than students with an average value.
  • Suggest forums could be improved to encourage authority and hub behaviours.
US Campus Computing survey (2014)
  • Survey of IT decision-makers in US
  • Quote: Less than 38% of respondents agree that “MOOCs offer a viable model for the effective delivery of online instruction,” down from 53% in 2013.
  • Quote: “MOOC mania” is over
  • New data in (Oct) 2015 survey. Stable; not much change since 2014. New focuses like OER.
Cooch, M and Foster, H and Costello, E (2014) Our MOOC with Moodle. In: HOME (Higher education Online: MOOCs the European way), November 2014, Porto, Portugal.
  • History of Moodle use as a MOOC platform, from first MOOC
  • Description of Learn Moodle MOOC as case study
Mackness, Jenny, Mak, Sui, & Williams, Roy. (2010). The ideals and reality of participating in a MOOC. In proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning. 266 - 274.
  • Early MOOC paper, covering a course on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge
  • Used Moodle
  • Quote: The research found that autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness/interactivity are indeed characteristics of a MOOC, but that they present paradoxes which are difficult to resolve in an online course.
Pappano, L. (2012). The Year of the MOOC. The New York Times, 2(12), 2012.
  • An indication that MOOCs have entered the mainstream mindset.
  • Well-cited newspaper article highlighting the notion of MOOCs disrupting traditional education.
  • Suggests an impression of democratising education.
  • Quote: “I like to call this the year of disruption,” says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, “and the year is not over yet.”
  • Recognises some "kinks" and suggests crowd-sourcing: “We desperately need crowdsourcing,” says Cathy N. Davidson, a Duke professor of English and interdisciplinary studies. “We need a MOOCE — massive open online course evaluation.
Breslow, L., Pritchard, D. E., DeBoer, J., Stump, G. S., Ho, A. D., & Seaton, D. T. (2013). Studying learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into edX’s first MOOC. Research & Practice in Assessment, 8(1), 13-25.
  • Study of first edX MOOC
  • Found that success stemmed from background (strongest correlation), capabilities, persistence and interaction with resources
  • Students enrolled mostly for knowledge/skills (55%) or challenge (25%)
  • Discussion, a primary "resource" initially, diminished in use over the course.
Veletsianos, G., Collier, A., & Schneider, E. (2015). Digging Deeper into Learners' Experiences in MOOCs: Participation in social networks outside of MOOCs, Notetaking, and contexts surrounding content consumption. British Journal of Educational Technology 46(3), 570-587.
  • A really long title for a paper.
  • Qualitative research to discover how and why people behaved in MOOCs (in relation to their daily lives).
  • Time and modality important to engagement with content
    • Quote: ...We discovered that these learners engage with content in both concentrated ways (e.g., while a child is asleep) as well as in dispersed ways (e.g., daily, after work). With regards to modality, learners engage with content in multiple modes (e.g., video, video transcript), and they do so in unique ways based on affordances imbued in the different
      modalities (e.g., pausing and replaying videos, taking notes on printed transcripts).
  • Social interaction
    • Quote: Brought together by mutual interests, learners shared information and interacted with one another outside of the MOOC platform.
    • (Outside communication not captured in past studies.)
    • Participants are not necessarily communicating about course content.
    • Participants also discuss the course with others outside the course, in broader social interactions.
  • Note-taking is an essential skill in MOOC context (or in online learning generally).
    • Should be facilitated/encouraged in system
Blackmore, K. (2014), Measures of success: varying intention and participation in MOOCs, Rhetoric and Reality: Critical perspectives on educational technology, ed. B Hegarty, J McDonald, SK Loke, ASCILITE: Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Dunedin New Zealand, pp. 549-553.
  • Suggest that many participants enrolled in MOOCs are not "students" who intend to "complete"
  • Measured "declared intention" to complete (65% of participants) and compared this to passing (65% passing score)
    • 3% passing overall
    • 28% of participants who intended to complete, passed the course
  • Many participants complete solitary assessments, but avoid discussions

Possible directions for MOOC-related research

  • Finding a place for MOOCs in a mix of educational models; MOOCs are not a distinct entity and lines are blurring.
  • Considering alternatives to Connectivist approaches, such as self-paced individualist approaches (as heretical as that sounds currently).
  • Considering ways of measuring the quality of courses, consolodating efforts and promoting open content.
  • Note-taking is an important learning tool. Some of that has been lost as we've moved online and "provided" resources to students (there's got to be a catchy phrase to describe that). Note-taking has been identified as useful in MOOCs, but it could be just as useful in any learning situation (online, blended). We should investigate a note taking block/plugin/something.


  • Do you have other significant citations you think should be shared?
  • Can you think of other MOOC research directions?

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Picture of Paula de Waal
Re: MOOC research, history and future questions

Hi Michael,

I have been organizing as Coordinator and E-learning managers Moodle-Based Moocs and "Hyper-populated" regular HE courses these last years here in Italy and the main lesson i learned (testing other moods too) is that there is a vicious circuit in "success" indicators that is causing the impoverishment of the learning experiences. What are these indicators?

1) Retention. 

You cannot compare retention rates between courses offering Real HE Credits and courses that offer badges-for-fun only. The first kind of Mooc will try to keep teaching and evaluation quality at least at the same level as the HE courses that are supposed to accept and recognize credits. They are open as the others, but there will be different causes for not completing the courses. many introductory-level courses presented in Moocs nowadays are very easy to complete and i have lots of fun trying to understand how other platforms are really tracking and calculating completion. Most of them are only using very simple criteria such as page view and quiz-testing (with all the right answers visualized after the first attempt!)

2) Number of participants.

Somehow it seems that if you don't have at least 5 000 people passing by, the Mooc is not attracting interest. It is not true for languages different from english! And it is not true if the course is not at introductory level or if it is about some very specific content, relevant only in certain contexts. For example: we had a 1000 students in a 1 year long path of concatenated modules/moocs about "certification methods and approaches to previous competence in adult learning". 1000 people interested in this in Italy, today is A LOT OF PEOPLE smile.

3) Active participants.

Well, that is a descriptor that needs a universal definition wink . Papers are treating this in different ways, using all kinds of indicator. Some are calculated as "clicks", others as "at least one message in a forum", (without looking at the content...),.... Learning activity should be treated as different from frequency of presence.


What have i learned about using Moodle for Moocs - there is nothing missing! What is missing is good knowledge about all kinds of resources and the many ways of organizing and presenting modules, completion criteria, alerts, formative feedback in quizzes. I have presented a workshop recently in  a moodlemoot about it and even people who are long time Admins were in some kind of awesome state (like... oh my god everything i need is here and i haven't noticed!)


What is missing in Moodle, but from my point of view in other Mooc platforms too, is useful analytics, presented in an intelligible way to the moderators. From my experience, the best community moderators and facilitators are not exactly experts in statistics and get really uncomfortable with reports if somebody does not translate complex data into normal language. The last year we tried this solution: one person in the group volunteered to analyze data constantly, aggregated from the many existing tools and some ad hoc queries. I say volunteered because if you are not extracting data directly from the database, some standard reports do not use the same "columns". Some have the ID as parameter, for example, others don't. And if you want to have a good idea of the population using some kind of questionnaires or feedbacks to build profiles and create filters or clusters, well... no "underpaid" lecturer will be doing that!

I volunteered and got allergic to excel and similar products smile but the results were great ! I could DISCUSS data with the moderators, compare data between different study-groups (aggregated by declared main profession and motivation to participate) and each moderator could decide what kind of messages or action to take in their own groups. It was a weekly process but with some modifications in the way data is collected and presented in moodle, it could be permanent! The main result of this DATA DRIVEN decisions in moderating was that each moderator started to write contextualized messages in forums and started using group messages as well (private) instead of standardized alert-like-canned-something.

I could keep telling my stories but what i am really saying is that MOOCs can be communities of practices oriented and do not have to be simplified automatized learning paths. Learning Analytics FOR ACTION are really welcome smile


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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: MOOC research, history and future questions
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"What is missing in Moodle, but from my point of view in other Mooc platforms too, is useful analytics, presented in an intelligible way to the moderators"

I believe this applies not just to Moocs, but to most use of Moodle, and note the emphasis I have added.

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My mug
Re: MOOC research, history and future questions
Group Core developersGroup Moodle Course Creator Certificate holdersGroup Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Plugin developersGroup Testers

Thanks for sharing your MOOC experience, Paula. It was great to see.

There is a draft specification for a Learning Analytics API in Moodle. Is that heading in a direction that could help you?

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