HEA publishes first research into learning and teaching of Massive Open Online courses (MOOCS)

  • Date: 06-03-2014

The first research into the learning and teaching of MOOCs is published today by the HEA, and finds that ‘the teacher persists’.

The Pedagogy of the MOOC: the UK View by Sian Bayne and Jen Ross from the University of Edinburgh, which also contains snapshots of five current UK MOOCs with an emphasis on the detail of teacher practice, concludes that although teaching functions are sometimes delegated to automated processes and community-based social learning in MOOCs, the place and visibility of the teacher remain of central importance.

At the same time, however, the report says, we need to be prepared to rethink how certain teacher roles are enacted in MOOCs. Machinic substitutions for teacher feedback are already common in MOOCs and assessment technologies like automated essay scoring are becoming more prevalent. Advances in natural language processing and learning analytics may move MOOC pedagogy towards the non-human teacher. The challenge for the future, the report says, will be to balance what is good in machinic intervention in teaching with a critical understanding of the professionalism and pedagogic capacities of the teacher.

“MOOCs present many challenges for teachers as there are many different types of learners seeking many different types of learning,” comments Dr Alison Le Cornu, Academic Lead for Flexible Learning at the HEA. “Decisions about curriculum design and about theories and approaches to learning and teaching are complex, and the research shows that despite much debate to the contrary, the teacher is not only very much present in the MOOCs currently on offer in the UK, but is very much needed to make these critical judgements. “

Against a backdrop in the UK of student fees (in England), government agendas that continue to focus on learning and teaching, and the growing need for universities to diversify income streams and meet the needs of a varied learning population by offering different options for learning, it is important that the learning and teaching aspects of MOOCs receive attention. The HEA, has been involved with MOOCS since their earliest implementation: the first MOOC to be named as such in the UK was the part-HEA-funded Oxford Brookes course “First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (May-June 2012).

A critical question for the future will be how to support the needs of teachers on MOOCs. The authors show that further research into discipline-specific learning and teaching approaches may be helpful. Pedagogical approaches to MOOCs are understandably aligned to disciplinary ways of practice, but while there is extensive literature about discipline-specific pedagogy in higher education learning and teaching, there has been little analysis of these approaches as they relate to MOOCS. So this may be a useful focus for the future.

As part of the Changing the Learning Landscape (CLL) Workshop and Seminar Series 2014, we are holding an event: ‘From OERs to MOOCS: Exploring the MOOC phenomenon and its relation to open educational resources and practice in enhancing learning and teaching’ at the University of Leeds on 31 March.

For further information and to book please visit http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2014/31_march_MOOC_CLL