Thursday, 17 July 2014

#PhD journey: preparing main study #MOOC

The next big step in my PhD journey is coming up: the main study. Once September comes, I will hopefully get massive amounts of data coming my way (well, lets say massive yet controllable data would be ideal, not BIG data, rather meaningful data in manageable abundance). Rolling out a main study is more difficult than organizing the pilot study for multiple reasons: personal knowledge (by knowing more, additional reflections come to mind when planning an follow-up), getting more people to agree that I come and gather a flock of research participants, making sure all questions will lead to meaningful research...

My previous steps during my PhD journey were:
  • writing a probation report (which included my pilot study set up, some literature and rationales for the research choices I made at that point in time)
  • considering the pilot study data analysis and filtering out key findings (e.g.what influences MOOC learning, what is of importance for learning what is not, is there a difference in learning depending on online learning experience...) that were of use to my upcoming main study (I will put these into a more legible document in the upcoming weeks)
  • rewriting my central research question and following sub-questions
  • building my research instruments (which in my case are questions I will ask the research participants: keeping learning logs, engaging in interviews)
  • and of course, very important for a PhD: rationales for each step. 
Research focus
For my research I look at experienced online learners (adults in most cases), and how they self-determine their learning (this links to heutagogy, I wrote briefly about the why of this approach in an earlier post here). There are multiple reasons why I like this: relevance to lifelong learning, adult learners can be more self-determined due to their own experience or professional/personal needs, it is advanced learn-to-learn combining personal goals with digital skills with a mediation linked to critical thinking (which content do I find of interest, of all the discussions I am engaged in - who do I learn from, which argument do I feel is more to my liking...). This emphasis on experienced (adult) online learners immediately opens up the MOOC space for me, it brings it back to its first roll-outs (cfr. CCK2008) and it relates to what young as well as adult learners do in terms of 'internet use for learning': you want to find a solution for something, you connect through the internet (tools, objects, people), you surf the net, you connect with others, you make curate in your mind what is useful, and assemble the information into new knowledge (well, that is how I think it goes, but a lot needs to be investigated). An adult learner makes decisions for their learning, they make their own decisions based on their own expertise (I assume here): we all have our own agenda's, and as such we need different bits of information (chosen drops from the Internet fountain or our own networks). Of course in this learning chaos, there might also be emergent learning happening, no matter how experienced one is as a learner, and this is of course also of interest (how does it work, might it become integrated in durable learning...).

So my central research question is: "How do experienced online learners manage self-determined learning when engaged in a MOOC in order to attain their learning objectives?"

Research environment
In order to investigate this, I was looking for research participants that would be engaged in MOOCs that would attract or support that type of learning. And I wanted MOOCs that had different feels to it as well, or could attract different populations that would (possibly, hopefully). I was also looking for MOOCs that would take more than two weeks, as research shows that there is an interesting chasm in interaction between week 2 and 3 of a MOOC. And as I am part of The Open University and its partners, I have the pleasure of being able to ask MOOC organizers from different universities that are all part of FutureLearn  to see whether I have their permission to gather research participants from their MOOCs. 
The world of academics is amazing, as I got three agreements of the lead facilitators of each MOOC I was interested in (SO GRATEFUL!). I gladly share the three MOOCs here:

The Science of Medicines: learn the science behind how and why medicines work, and what can improve the patient treatment experience. This MOOC is organized by Monash University in Australia, and lead by Ian Larson. The Monash University is a leading university for pharmacy and health courses, and I really look forward to the course. I choose this course as it was health related: building on past experiences I would think a lot of health professionals might be interested in this course as it might provide extra insight into medicines and pharmacy. The course also provides support for carers and people with diseases mentioned in the course. This is an additional bonus, as my pilot study showed that health issues can be a reason to follow a MOOC. And I am a diabetic type 1 (= insuline dependent, so interested in that health part as well). 
The course starts 1 September 2014, and lasts for 6 weeks, with a 4 hourse pw study time. 

Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World is my second MOOC of interest. This course will teach us the first principles of complexity, uncertainty and how to make decisions in a complex world. It is organized by the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and Lex Hoogduin is the course lead. The reason for choosing this MOOC to look for research volunteers was based on its content related to complexity. For MOOC learning, and especially experienced online learning has a lot to do with dealing with complexity. As such, I thought it would be interesting, and I hope to see some parallels coming out of the content, and the learning reflections. 
The course starts 15 September 2014, lasts for 6 weeks, and has quite a hefty 6 hours per week study workload (which is of interest as well, as high expectations sometimes provides high effort return). 

Basic science: understanding experiments is a hands-on course which introduces its participants to science-based skills through simple and exciting physics, chemistry and biology experiments. It is organized by The Open University, and lead by Hazel Rymer. This MOOC offers a different learning set-up: it is more practical, as course participants are asked to try out experiments in their own home (one of which is: getting DNA !). So this might ask different learning to occur. 
The course starts on 22 September 2014, lasts for 4 weeks, and has an estimated study workload of 3 hours per week. 

Excited by the prospect of getting people on board for this research... so will post as the next steps are ready.