Since their emergence in the mid-2000s, massive open online courses (MOOC) have been predicated on making learning available to everyone, and at scale. While the use of instructional video by educators isn’t new to face-to-face or online learning experiences, it does serve as a critical and primary means of content delivery in a MOOC.
Much effort has been spent analysing data generated by MOOC participants (eg., Guo, Kim & Rubin, 2014; Savage, 2009; Wang, 2017) to determine if video production methods, format, style, type or even duration has the capacity to solely influence student learning and engagement. Research across a variety of MOOCS (eg., Engle, Mankoff & Carbrey 2015; Hew & Cheung, 2008; Taib, Chuah & Aziz, 2017) has also been conducted into better understanding the impact of pedagogical dimensions such as cooperative learning, feedback, activities and assessments on learner participation, therefore suggesting that there may be more factors to cultivating an engaging learning experience than video instruction alone.
These factors may seem elementary for a single instance or one-off run of a MOOC, but what of repeat learners – those learners who repeatedly join and then continue to actively participate in the same MOOC over multiple instances? An example of this cohort would be the learners who continue to participate in Monash University’s ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ and ‘Maintaining a Mindful Life’ courses on FutureLearn.
This review aims to assess which pedagogical dimensions, or combinations of, that could possibly contribute to repeated participation by learners in an online course over multiple instances to assist the rise of continued ongoing course participation and guide course design for alternate and expanded online offerings.
Review of literature
‘Have we got a video? Yes, we’ve got a video!’ (Young Ones – Nasty 1986)
Although the use of video isn’t exclusive to MOOCs, video is the primary means of content delivery. Each MOOC is unique, where educators, course content designers and producers work together to create video content that makes use of a diverse combination of video types (text, static image, image and presenter face/talking head and fully animated) and video design elements (static slides, digital ink/scribbler/analysis, discussion/discursive), that complements the pedagogical approach. The impact of video production on learning is of great interest to educators and MOOC producers. Guo, Kim and Rubin (2014) found that videos of short duration are engaging to learners. An equal level of engagement was identified for videos types that featured the ‘talking head’ of a presenter or used digital ink/scribbler/analysis to provide a more detailed explanation. Neilson (2014) and Savage (2009) support the approach of videos of short duration. To maintain learner engagement, Neilson (2014) recommended that videos should combine different video types and design elements, such as a presenter face/talking head with a digital ink/scribbler/analysis. Multiple studies have investigated the role of cinematography and cinema production design/methodology on learner engagement. In his research, Wang (2017) identified camera shot style and background design ‘down to the granularity of how the image is captured, recorded and delivered’ (Wang 2017) to be as equally as important as video types and video design elements on learner attention and engagement. In addition, Wang, Chen and Wu (2015) observed the impact of different video types and video design elements on learning. They concluded that the production cost and intensity associated with creating ‘lecture capture and picture-in-picture videos may be worthwhile for online learning from the perspectives of improved learning performance and reduced cognitive load’ (Wang, Chen and Wu 2015). The use of video isn’t reduced only to pre-prepared and pre-recorded content that contributes to the course material. Video can also be create in responsive to learner activity and play a critical role in enabling educators and course instructors to provide feedback to learners throughout the delivery of the course. Henderson and Phillips (2015) reported that the affordances of video enable instructors to convey detailed and elaborate feedback as well as encouragement and praise to learners more so than written commentary. Henderson and Phillips (2015) also reported positive learner response to video-based feedback, where learners felt they had a closer connection with the instructors or educators. Echoing the reports from Henderson and Phillips are learner reviews posted online ‘The final feedback video each week is the jewel in their crown. It sums up the week’s thoughts and mentions some of the issues and talking points brought up in the online comments’, ‘Weekly feedback on YouTube responds to learners questions and comments as they have arisen that week’ and ‘The weekly feedback sessions allowed the participants to feel engaged and gave a more personal feel to an online course’ (Class Central 2018). The use of video-based feedback in this capacity not only addresses any potential knowledge deficit experienced by learners, makes the ‘makes the massive feel intimate’ (Pappano 2018), but also personalised the course in a meaningful and practical way, while actively contributing to the change in learner perceptions of the course as the type where an ‘instructor is not as available because there are tens of thousands of others in the class’ (Pappano 2012).
‘Everybody online. Looking good.’ (Aliens 1986)
When thinking about why learners persist with a course or even choose to repeat the same course again, it’s critical to consider the role of instructors, course mentors or any of the multitudes of names for the course team members who are responsible for facilitating discussions and interacting with learners on the platform. According to Hew (2014), instructor accessibility and passion are some of the features that were identified as key for promoting learner engagement, where engagement is defined as an observable action in the course. While engagement is different from completion and retention (which in MOOCS, are an often misconstrued metric devised by educators and platform providers for defining their view of learner success, satisfaction, needs or goals) an analysis by Adamopoulos (2013) revealed that the role of the instructor did have the largest possible effect on the likelihood of completion. Learner reviews posted online ‘In addition to this there are two outstanding mentors who support the learning and help clarify the more scientific aspects of the course and make lots of useful links and resourses [sic] available to enable the independant [sic] exploration of a complex subject’ (Class Central 2018), ‘The moderators are extremely active in their support for learners’ (Class Central 2018) and ‘The mentors had valuable insights and comments and added a lot’ (Class Central 2018) echo the findings of Adamopoulos (2013) and Pilli & Admiraal (2017) in relation to learner interaction with an instructor, where learner retention and satisfaction is higher when instructors are highly responsive. However, some earlier literature on MOOCS (Kop, 2011; Mackness, 2013; Milligan & Littlejohn, 2014) seemingly bemoan the absence of interaction between instructors and learners, asserting that learners may be prevented from having a quality learning experience due to their limited capacity to undertake self-directed learning. In the past, a diminished learning experience may have been inevitable, considering the vintage of the online environment in which their learner cohort was constrained (the anti-social EdX platform and the hardcore Connectivist Edupunk-ness of the open web). Since the launch of FutureLearn, a platform that’s been ‘inspired by Laurillard’s Conversational Framework’ (Sánchez-Vera, Maria del Mar, Leon Urrutia, Manuel and Davis, Hugh C 2015), a diminished learning experience seems less likely as the platform is predicated on a social learning experience, instructor-learner, learner-learner and learner-content.
‘This course could be your life’ (Groom 2016)
According to Horrigan (2016), people undertake learning for personal and professional reasons. Personal learners often choose learning opportunities that are likely increase their knowledge and skills that benefit themselves and others. Professional learners often choose learning opportunities that are likely to maintain or improve their knowledge and skills. Irrespective of the learner’s inclination for undertaking learning, the opportunity must be flexible and permit the learner drop-in and out at their discretion, often at intervals throughout their life, much like ‘a personal learning continuum, rather than as unrelated, separate gatherings’ (Aras Bozkurt & Jeffrey Keefer 2018). Communities that foster a culture of participatory learning contribute to the premise of lifelong learning, something to be part of, an idea ‘that the teaching and learning experience, the idea of imagining where you stand within in that environment is something that’s akin to the DIY punk experience‘ (Groom 2016). While the course creates an environment for this type of experience, its an environment that is suited for a learner that is self-determined, attentive, can think critically, reason, and is ready to collaborate (Pegrum, 2009). The presence of instructors is once again critical, where they support learners, the development of a community of learning, all the while gently guiding learners through the course. This raises the question as to why learners continue to participate and persist with a course and continue to engage in the community of learning. As MOOCS are voluntary, is it possible that learners simply enjoy being part of a community or their goals to deepen their knowledge and skills are being met, or is it the convenience, ease of use and flexibility afforded by the platform, or possibly even something else entirely that’s related to their individual needs that’s being served? Learners (Class Central, 2018) who participated in either or both of the mindfulness-related offerings by Monash reported ‘The two courses that I have been blessed with the opportunity to do on a number of ocassions [sic] have really enhanced the quality of not just my life but those who share their lives with me in any way. I am simply a better person for the learnings that I have had through undertaking the courses’, ‘I have found the leaders, Craig and Richard, really engaging and great role models for their subject, being calm, measured and reassuring, but also inspirational and encouraging. The strength of the course is their rapport in the short videos and audios which acknowledge human frailty and make the continuing practice of mindfulness seem vital and attainable in daily life.’ and ‘I plan to take the course again when it is offered in November, so I can delve more deeply into this more authentic way of viewing the world and living my life’, which goes some way to providing some insight into their ongoing participation. Furthermore, the learner sentiment expressed towards the mindfulness related offerings is somewhat akin to the model proposed by Peltier, Drago, and Schibrowsky (2003), that identified student-to-student interactions, student-instructor interactions and instructor support and mentoring, as well as course content, course structure and information delivery technology to key components to learner perceived quality of the online learning experience.
This review aimed to assess which pedagogical dimensions, or combinations of, that could possibly contribute to repeated participation by learners in an online course over multiple instances to assist the rise of continued ongoing course participation and guide course design for alternate and expanded online offerings. While findings are inconclusive in regards to the particular group of learners who continue to participate in Monash’s ‘Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance’ and ‘Maintaining a Mindful Life’ courses, video production that carefully considers video type and video design is critical for learning materials that contribute to learner engagement. The role of instructors, course mentors or course team members responsible for interacting with learners was also found to be critical to learner engagement, completion and a quality learning experience. The affordances of a digital online space that’s flexible enough to permit a learner to drop-in and out at their choosing, at intervals throughout their life is a key factor to creating a community that fosters a culture of participatory learning, and one that may encourage learners to continue to be a part of. While anecdotes posted online do celebrate rich and impactful experiences that resonate with the repeat learners, literature that articulates or attempts to articulate an explanatory model for that particularly cohort is scarce. It is proposed that future studies could further examine in detail the repeat learner cohort, which could allow for more specific identification and understanding of the pedagogical dimensions, or combinations of that inform their ongoing commitment to a course, which could then be further analysed and potentially applied to courses with different subject matter contexts.
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