Examining the instructional quality of MOOCs: Lots of window dressing, much less quality?

MargaryanBianco and Littlejohn examined the instructional quality of 76 randomly selected Massive Open Online Courses (aka MOOCs), including 50 content-based xMOOCs and 26 connectivist cMOOCs. While the majority of MOOCs scored poorly on most instructional design principles, most MOOCs scored highly on organisation and presentation of course material. The quality was determined from first principles, using a Course Scan instrument with 10 guiding principles.

  1. Problem-centred: Learning is promoted when learners acquire skill in the context of real-world problems.
  2. Activation: Learning is promoted when learners activate existing knowledge and skill as a foundation for new skill.
  3. Demonstration: Learning is promoted when learners observe a demonstration of the skill to be learned.
  4. Application: Learning is promoted when learners apply their newly acquired skill to solve problems.
  5. Integration: Learning is promoted when learners reflect on, discuss, and defend their newly acquired skill.
  6. Collective knowledge: Learning is promoted when learners contribute to the collective knowledge.
  7. Collaboration: Learning is promoted when learners collaborate with others.
  8. Differentiation: Learning is promoted when different learners are provided with different avenues of learning, according to their need.
  9. Authentic resources: Learning is promoted when learning resources are drawn from real-world settings.
  10. Feedback: Learning is promoted when learners are given expert feedback on their performance.

So it looked good, but it seems less good for learning, the researchers conclude “Although most MOOCs are well-packaged, their instructional design quality is low.”

More elaborated:

This study highlights a number of key areas in which instructional design of these courses should be improved. In massive online courses, implementing some of the principles, for example providing learners with high quality, expert human feedback, is a non-trivial task. Yet if academics and universities continue offering MOOCs, as they no doubt will, they must rethink the MOOC design model from the first principles. Many learners are drawn to MOOCs by the ‘brand’ of the universities and academics, expecting rigour and quality traditionally associated with these institutions. Yet what learners find in MOOCs may be a mirage of quality education.

Abstract of the study (free access):

We present an analysis of instructional design quality of 76 randomly selected Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The quality of MOOCs was determined from first principles of instruction, using a course survey instrument. Two types of MOOCs (xMOOCs and cMOOCs) were analysed and their instructional design quality was assessed and compared. We found that the majority of MOOCs scored poorly on most instructional design principles. However, most MOOCs scored highly on organisation and presentation of course material. The results indicate that although most MOOCs are well-packaged, their instructional design quality is low. We outline implications for practice and ideas for future research.

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