Changes in positioning: An alternative perspective on learning in Massive Open Online Courses

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Massive Open Online Courses
Online discussion
Forum participation
Learning analytics
Mixed methods research

Discussion forums are widely provided in Massive Open Online Courses for learners to interact and exchange learning support. Developing one’s forum participation pattern to interact substantively about the course content can be an important form of MOOC learning. This mixed-method study examines learners’ forum participation patterns as positions that can be characterized by characteristics related to their contributions and social relations. The series of positions that a learner takes over time form their position trajectory. This study analyzed learners’ positions in the beginning, middle, and end periods in a statistics MOOC and a writing MOOC. Through performing content analysis and social network analysis on the discussions, five kinds of participation characteristics were extracted for each learner: quantity of content-related contributions, input seeking and providing activities, deep consideration of the discussion content, connectedness in the social network, and strength of social connections. Positions in each time period were identified through clustering groups of learners who had similar participation characteristics. The identified positions fell into six primary types: enthusiastic central providers, enthusiastic central reciprocators, moderate providers, moderate reciprocators, moderate deep thinkers, and minimal peripheral contributors. The forum at any time point usually contained a small group of enthusiastic contributors, a big proportion of moderate contributors, and a majority of minimal contributors. This study further examined the position trajectories for learners who participated in multiple periods, and performed case studies on learners who showed the frequent trajectories. In both MOOCs only 17% of the multi-period learners showed constructive development in participation pattern and changes in language and participation focus that suggested identity development. This study is the first effort among MOOC research to examine changes in participation pattern using multiple contribution and social characteristics. The identified positions provided a critical ground for studying content-related interaction and learning community in MOOC forums. The moderate contributor groups are under-researched in the MOOC literature and promising for expanding the understanding of MOOC learners. The findings in this study also demonstrate the usefulness of the position perspective for understanding MOOC learning and both the need and potential avenues to help MOOC learners become more competent forum participants.

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Alyssa Friend Wise
Education: Faculty of Education
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) Ph.D.