Monday, 11 March 2013

20 strategies for learner interactions in mobile #MOOC

Let's be honest, we all LOVE research *grin*, or facts, or lists, or useful practices ... or practical strategies for that matter. Well, here is a new set of useful strategies for mobile MOOCs, I hope you like it!

In my latest research I focused on the impact of mobile access on learner interactions in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The research was done to get my Master in Education at Athabasca University. As always all of the Athabasca faculty was supportive to get the research up to their standards (ethical approval, relevant literature...).

The readable and hopefully useful list of 20 mobile strategies to increase learner interaction in a MOOC that came out of my research can be found below in this post, but feel free to read the full thesis here, it has links to ethical procedures (e.g. informed consent form), some web analytics, community of inquiry use to screen learner interactions.... If you want to reference to the strategies, or parts of the thesis, this is the APA reference for it:

de Waard, I. (2013). Impact of mobile access on learner interactions in a MOOC. Retrieved from Athabasca DThesis database http://hdl.handle.net/10791/23 

Abstract of the research 
As mobile access and massive open online courses (MOOCs) become a global reality, the realm of potential distance learners is expanding rapidly. Mobile learning (mLearning) as well as MOOCs are based on similar characteristics as shown in the literature review of this study. They both enhance a community feeling, increasing networking and collaboration; they strengthen lifelong and informal learning, they use social media to a large extend and they are ideal for setting up communicative dialogues. The focus on learner interactions is of interest, as research has shown that dialogue is an important element for learning and knowledge enhancement, and mobile access increases the opportunities to enter into such interactions. This thesis study used a sequential explanatory mixed methods approach to investigate the impact of mobile accessibility on learner interaction in a MOOC. The study showed that opening up a MOOC for mobile access has immediate impact on learner interactions, as participants with mobile devices tend to interact more with their fellow learners in comparison to their non-mobile colleagues. This was deduced from the mixed methods approach looking at web-based statistics, an online survey, an analysis using the Community of Inquiry framework and one-on-one interviews with volunteers. The study formulated a set of 20 strategies and possible consequences deriving from the analysis of the impact of mobile accessibility in a MOOC and more specifically how this affects learner interactions. These strategies might optimize the impact of mobile access on learner interactions in an informal, open, online course. Future research needs to support the findings, embracing a larger learner population from a more varied background. Overall, this research hopes to add to the body of knowledge strengthening the field of distance education.

List of 20 mobile related strategies to increase learner interactions in MOOCs:

Design
1. Offer a ubiquitous learning environment based on BYOD design and content, making use of existing ubiquitous tools (social media, e-mail…) so people can switch between devices at their own preference.
2. Create a user-friendly, one button centralized access learning environment. This easy access must be linked to a clear course overview to increase transparency, user-friendliness and provide the learner with a structure that s/he can organize for self-regulating learning purposes.
Self-directed learning 
3. Provide self-directed learning strategies to the learners.
4. Enabling immediate access to content material as well as discussion areas adds to time management options and it enables self-regulated learning.
5. Offer synchronous and asynchronous learner activities within a clearly timed course. This provides the necessary freedom for the learner to access, reflect and possibly react on the subject touched at specific moments during the course.
6. Provide a clear timetable of the course, while embedding time for reflection into the course timeline. This suggested flexible, yet cohort move through the course provides an opportunity to nurture reflection time, which is in direct relation to learner interactions.
7. Embed informality in the course to allow increased, autonomous learner interactions to emerge. This room for emergence is induced by the course being both formal and informal, or informal overall and being mobile. The informal character of a course results in participants feeling more at ease with sharing and producing content and engaging in interactions across all their devices.
Digital skills
8. Increase the necessary digital skills of the learner, providing basic training before the course starts via meaningful content-related actions. If a course is accessible for a multitude of devices, it affects (the need for) digital skills, because multiple devices have multiple characteristics and affordances.
Content 
9. Offer an array of course materials, varying from bite size snacks to big, time consuming content. The mobility of the user results in the ability to access materials in a variety of locations and times. As such a wide array of course materials is needed to cater to the time availability of the learner. Offering the learner a choice to tailor the content to their current possibilities.
10. Provide a sense of ownership about the content and the learning: BYOD, contextualized options, this adds to the overall learner motivation.
Human learning environment
11. Ensure a safe learning environment. This essential to increase learner interactions in general. Tolerance, trust, daring to write in a non-native language and knowing that one can pose every content related question and not being judged for either its simplicity or format must be set early in the course.
12. Provide interaction/communication guidelines stipulating balanced communication allowing a safe discussion area to be ensured. By creating a safe learning environment, a broader perspective of personalities are tempted to engage and interact in the course.
13. Profile a central course person(s) (e.g. central coordinator, course support person) who watches over the interactions and links to each participant personally, ensuring a trusting learning environment with room for cultural and language diversity.
14. Watch over the group-size. Community feeling is increased by an intermediate group-size and learner-centered activities, which in turn affects learner interactions.
15. Allow networks to emerge. A community feeling based upon easy (mobile) access increases the formation of a more durable professional network for those connecting to each other in a way that surpasses the course duration.
Course activities
16. Embed icebreaker activities and/or discussions at the beginning of the course to allow learner interactions to take off. These activities should also be linked to intellectual topics.
17. Ensure discussions or conversation starters. The act of conversation and exchanging ideas leads to more interactions as participants become more familiar with each other on professional grounds.
18. Create meaningful, contextualized, generic, topic related interactions, as they are pivotal to create a course community spirit, because the exchange of professional interests adds to the knowledge need of the learners.
19. Add activities involving non-verbal communication to offer additional understanding, which increases the community feeling, for it might offer an additional insight into dialogue and discussion.
20. Ensure topic relevant learner diversity in examples or actions. Learners can more easily join in those conversations where they detect knowledge niches to which they can provide an answer, strengthening each other.