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What We Learned From Talking with 100 MOOC Students

By Justin Reich — June 30, 2016 1 min read

One of the great strengths of online learning environments is that they create and maintain detailed records of every action taken by every student and every educator on the platform. But billions of log events can’t capture everything that happens as an online student learns, and big data in education can’t track what happens at a learner’s workstation, what they do online but off platform, or how the communicate with friends and family in the real world.

This week, with George Veletsianos and Laura Pasquini, we published an article in AERA Open (a wonderful new open license education journal) titled The Life Between Big Data Log Events: Learners’ Strategies to Overcome Challenges in MOOCs. We interviewed nearly 100 online MOOC students to better understand how they make sense of their learning experiences. For me, the most important take away was the changing notion of what it means to be a participant in a course. Since medieval times, professors were repositories of scarce knowledge and courses were a means of transmitting a body of knowledge to students. Today, however, courses are not hermetically-sealed bundles of knowledge, but they are nodes in a larger network of learning opportunities, and students treat them that way. Students enrolled in a MOOC will search key terms on Google and Wikipedia, join social network groups of fellow learners, read snippets on Google Books of relevant texts, and connect courses to others. Given that students see courses as one node in a larger network, we should design them that way, so a great course is a map to a wider territory rather than a tightly-bound summation of a body of knowledge.

We learned all sorts of other interesting things as well, many of them very nicely summarized by Laura Pasquini in this fabulous four minute research overview above. And if you want to read the whole paper, it’s freely available at AERA Open.

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