Three Questions About Massive Open Online Courses


Jacqueline Wong

It has been just over a decade since the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was introduced to learners around the world. For the next ten years, there was a phenomenal growth not only in the number of MOOCs that were developed but also in the number of individuals around the world who signed up for MOOCs. As an instructional approach, MOOC can facilitate training and education at scale. In this blog, we have written a number of articles about MOOCs. Recently, Weinhardt and Sitzmann (2019) argued that it is important for educational institutes and organizations to understand the use and effectiveness of MOOCs when considering implementing MOOCs. In their published article, the authors posed three critical questions regarding MOOCs.

The first question concerned the learners in MOOCs: Who enrolls in MOOCs and why do they enroll?

Based on the information gathered from research, Weinhardt and Sitzmann (2019) concluded that the majority of the learners who took MOOCs were educated individuals from the United States. Only slightly over one-fifth of the participants were from developing countries. According to research, about half of the learner population enrolled in MOOCs for curiosity and fun while the other half enrolled to gain work-related skills. To target issues on enrollment, research is needed to resolve language, culture, gender, and work-life challenges that MOOC learners face. Another area of research is to increase computer literacy so that learners have the prerequisite skills to participate in online learning. The authors also noted that it is important for research to investigate intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation to understand the influence of motivation on success in MOOCs.

The second question concerned the skills learners are required to have when learning in MOOCs: Are Students Self-Aware and able to Self-Regulate their Learning in MOOCs?

Drawing from prior studies on self-assessment, the authors suggested that accurately self-assessing one’s performance is challenging, and it is even more difficult in MOOCs. Learners are responsible for their own learning in MOOCs, so they need to reliably estimate the amount of effort needed for completing various task successfully. If they underestimate the amount of effort needed or the difficulty level of the content, their self-efficacy might be affected. Eventually, the learners might drop out of the course as a consequence of not being able to successfully complete the various learning tasks. To support learners in MOOCs, Weinhardt and Sitzmann (2019) suggested the implementation of interventions to support self-regulation of learning in MOOCs. For example, helping learners track their progress in learning, facilitating the setting of implementation intentions, or shifting from self-regulated learning to co-regulation of learning by creating small learning groups in MOOCs.

 The third question concerns the effectiveness of MOOCs: Are MOOCs Effective and How Can We Maximize their Effectiveness?

The authors pointed out that direct comparison between MOOCs and other forms of instructional approaches is challenging because of the differences in delivery methods and learning assessment measures. However, the comparable effectiveness of online instruction in relation to classroom instruction suggests that MOOCs have the potential to be an effective form of instruction. MOOCs on the whole can be viewed as an effective approach for learners because they are offered for free or require only a small fee. Therefore, since learners’ initial financial investment is small, they enjoy a high return of investment through the gain in knowledge from completing the MOOCs. Future research on the effectiveness of MOOCs include conducting randomized controlled trials to empirically examine the effective of MOOCs in comparison to other instructional approaches as well as examining how free versus paid access to the MOOCs affect the learning experience.

The three questions posed by Weinhardt and Sitzmann (2019) suggest that there is a wealth of opportunities for research in MOOCs to examine their instructional effectiveness for training and education. Therefore, what will MOOCs be like or look like in the next ten years would be rather hard to predict.

 Weinhardt, J. M., & Sitzmann, T. (2019). Revolutionizing training and education? Three questions regarding massive open online courses (MOOCs). Human Resource Management Review29(2), 218-225.

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