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Research Guides

Digital Pedagogy - A Guide for Librarians, Faculty, and Students

This guide is meant to inform the user about Digital Pedagogy. It includes information on educational theory, a collection of case studies, and resources relevant to the study of digital pedagogy.

MOOCs - Pedagogy

Kerry Wu, in "Academic Libraries in the Age of MOOCs," argues that research needs to be done to examine the efficacy of MOOCs because supporting student learning is the core mission of the academic library

In “Are you MOOCing yet,”  the authors argue that connectivism can be applied to MOOCs, as  knowledge is distributed across a network of connections so learning consists of the learners ability to construct and traverse networks. In considering the pedagogy of MOOCs, Hannah Gore states the a greater understanding of emerging pedagogies and technologies is needed in this context. Gore hopes that as MOOCs continue to evolve, those who design them will be able to understand and apply theories for motivation in online learning, learning in the social context, as well as the impact of technology on learning. She also hopes that they will further development of social learning and its impact on learning communities. She states that areas that could be further impacted by MOOCs include:

  • Demographic shift in learners, with users demographics shifting to graduate students
  • MOOCs used for pre-university prep courses
  • Joint venture MOOCs created by numerous partnerships
  • Use of MOOCs by corporate bodies for professional development

In 2013, in their article, “The Pedagogical Foundations of MOOCs,” Glance, Forsey, and Riley analyzed the content of various MOOCs in order to assess whether MOOCs represent a pedagogically sound format for learning at a tertiary level. The authors summarize MOOCs positive pedagogical claims as the following:

  • online learning can be particular effective
  • formative quizzes enhance learning through the mechanism of retrieval practice
  • short videos and quizzes allow for a mastery of learning
  • MOOCs allow for peer and self-assessment
  • short videos complement the short attention span of students
  • discussion forums provide adequate replacement for faculty contact.

The chart below summarizes the pedagogical benefits met by specific MOOC characteristics:

MOOC characteristic

Pedagogical benefits

Online mode of delivery

Efficacy of online learning

Online quizzes and assessments

Retrieval learning

Short videos and quizzes

Mastery learning

Peer and self–assessment

Enhanced learning through this assessment

Short videos

Enhanced attention and focus

Online forums

Peer assistance, out–of–band learning

The authors also point out that although MOOCs are similar to distance learning, they differ because of their massive enrollment, meaning that they could never run in the conventional face to face manner. The authors due argue that as MOOCs become more and more popular, it is important to understand their benefits and shortfalls. The authors conducted a review of research on MOOCs which contained empirical evidence. The authors found that looking at the efficacy of online learning, they found that student in class attendance tends to decline when online materials are available for face to face courses, but that online learning is seen as more flexible, and that there is no significant difference in student achievement between the two. The authors also refer to studies that show that distance education actually surpasses face-to-face interactions. However, some of the studies examined claim that interaction and timely feedback are missing and that there are much higher attrition rates. Additionally, more prep time for instructors, as is greater learner initiative. The authors go on to outline various features of MOOCs that emphasize sound pedagogical design. Some of these pedagogical qualities are as follows:

  • Embedded quizzes related to videos improve long term memory, as learning occurs through the act of retrieval
  • MOOCs can reinforce mastery learning:  mastering a concept before moving on to the next one; in the online environment, the participant can go at own pace rather than at the established pace set by the instructor, while videos emulate the one-on-one tutoring effect. Mastery learners tend to have higher levels of achievement
  • MOOCs allow for peer and self-assessment: automated marking can provide instant feedback, and some studies have found a high degree of correlation between how peers and how instructors mark. The authors found that some of the empirical research indicates that there are benefits for peer assessors: increased awareness of strengths and weaknesses, development of professional skills, and enhancement to reflective thinking.
  • MOOCs also allow for self assessment, meaning greater autonomy in learning, improved understanding, performance, and ability for analysis. The ability to self-assess is considered to be a key skill for effective lifelong learning and professional development.
  • The short format videos included in MOOCs can emulate one-on-one learning, and allows students to control the pace, and rewind if necessary.
  • Online forums and video discussions found in MOOCs ideally allow students to get help directly with  problems, and can be considered another mode of teaching. The authors describe it as creating space for exploring subject matter. It also helps to establish a community through which students gather and share knowledge. Some empirical research has shown that researchers/instructors found that the online discussion showed more student–initiated activity, higher quality, and better application of concepts than the face–to–face discussion.

Success in MOOCs - David Cormier