Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Edinburgh University's MOOCs report

The University of Edinburgh, published a report earlier this month on its experience offering 6 MOOCs through Coursera.

As well as providing insights into the university’s motives for organizing the courses, the report also covers lessons learned and discloses data on success rates and users demographics.

“In coming to our decision to offer MOOCs and to join Coursera, we concluded that the greatest opportunities lay in developing online courses within a new educational environment (fully online, open to all regardless of prior qualifications or geographical location, with no fee), and gaining outreach to new audiences. Our Edinburgh MOOCs offered us a route to experimentation with online delivery methods at large scale, and gave us a chance to learn lessons that might be applied elsewhere in our educational portfolio. At the same time, we would reinforce our position as a leader in the use of educational technology in higher education.”

As we’ve seen before (Who’s paying for free online education?), the two main motives put forward by the university are experimentation with emerging practices and publicity.

Even though, the university does not rule out some forms of monetization, it clearly states that its goals lie elsewhere:

“Irrespective of any future revenue received, we have committed to MOOCs as a not-for-profit educational venture, and shall reinvest any income directly back into the courses themselves, through offsetting the costs of part-time post-graduate teaching assistants and further content production.”

  • Organisation of courses

Due to the great autonomy granted by the university to teams running each course, the structures and organisation ended up fairly different: “Some teams decided to follow a ‘typical’ Coursera video-centred structure, whilst others wished to experiment with a design incorporating substantial learner-generated content.”

  • Demographic data

To simplify the signup process, Coursera does not require any demographic information from learners when they create an account. The information produced in the report therefore had to be captured separately with surveys.

The elusive 'average' learner therefore seem to be a 25 to 45 years old anglo-saxon working in IT or education with a stellar academic background:

Sadly the gender distribution is extremely unbalanced with 80% males in Artificial Intelligence Planning and 87% female in Equine Nutrition:

In terms of motivations for taking courses, intellectual curiosity seems to be the main drive followed by the willingness to try MOOCs and seek career advancement:

  • Usage data

The university’s usage data once shows low retention rate. The university seem comfortable with this situation: ”the MOOCs had no barriers to entry and exit, and the option existed to study without active engagement with quizzes or social media; this permits behaviour patterns distinct from those of on-campus degree courses.”

Analysis of the usage data also revealed that relatively few people contribute to the forums 10-20%.

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