Wednesday, 10 December 2014

#PhD sharing #online and #MOOC #research instruments

The last couple of months I have been hammering away with data. Trying to collect meaningful answers to the question: "how do experienced online learners determine what they want to learn and how?". Well, the research question sounds a bit more formal, but I like the question this way. This central research question came out of the results from a pilot study which I planned during the first closed beta courses of FutureLearn. The pilot study is in part described in my probation report, which I uploaded in academia and can be found here. The probation report is a report you need to submit to UK based universities to proof that you are PhD material, and that you have been working on research with academic rigor and good progress for approximately 10 months.

And to add to my PhD journey, I will share the first research instruments used for my main study via this blogpost, see below. More instruments or details will follow as I proceed.

sub-questions to build narrative towards answers to the central research question
In order to get answers to the central research question mentioned above, I divided the central research question into five sub-questions, which will hopefully give an idea of the elements I investigated to come to a more complete answer:
1. What are the MOOC participants learning objectives?
2. What are the actions undertaken by the learner to attain self-determined learning goals?
     a. Who do learners connect to in order to learn?
     b. Which technologies do learners use (devices, tools and resources)?
     c. Do they mediate that learning with others or other technologies in order to add it to their learning? If so,          how?
3. What makes a MOOC learner reach further to find an answer to their learning, or what is the point beyond which they think it is not worth the effort to reach an answer for their learning objective?
4. Did emergent learning happen resulting in unexpected learning outcomes?

Quick overview of the methodology

This main study gathered Self-Determined Learning (SDL) experiences from experienced, online learners while they are enrolled in a FutureLearn course. The research consisted of three phases, leading up to conclusions on SDL in FutureLearn courses.

  •  Phase 1 – expectations: gathering expectations of the participants enrolled in FutureLearn course via an online survey
  • Phase 2 – experiences: collecting learning logs in which the participants are asked to describe two learning episodes every other week for the duration of the course
  • Phase 3 – reflections: interviewing the participants (one-on-one) taking part in the study via structured interviews looking into the differences between their expectations and actual perceptions on their SDL as they were participating in the FutureLearn course

The FutureLearn research participants were volunteers selected from those taking part in one of three specific FutureLearn courses. The selection was based on their prior online learning experience (which could be online learning in general, self-taught learning while using the web, MOOC, mobile learning... but they needed to be online and engaged in some kind of learning for over 3 years). 

The pre-course survey questions
For phase 1 just a couple of questions were asked. The aim of the questions was to get an idea of the motivation of the participants for enrolling in that particular course, as well as to allow me to double check their previous online learning experience. 

1.       What is your prior online learning experience? (Multiple choice: no prior experience, 1 year or less online learning experience, less than 3 years online learning experience, less than 5 years online experience, more than 5 years online learning)?
2.       What type of online learning do you have experience with? (Multiple answer: MOOC, online learning, distance education course, learning experience by self-organised learning to stay on top of my field of interest, learning online from my network, self-taught online learning on random subjects, other)
3.       What is your reason for registering for this particular course (Multiple answer: professional interest, personal interest, learning need, other)?
4.       What do you expect to get out of this course? (Open question)

Although you will not find questions related to demographics here, these were in fact provided to all FutureLearn participants as part of the overall pre-course FutureLearn course survey. And I certainly did not want to double up with the survey the participants already filled in (in the past I found that saving time is essential for willingness to participate). 

Learning log template used
In phase 2 the learning log templates were the most important research instrument used in the process of this research study. All the participants were asked to fill in the learning log template at bi-weekly intervals, and to provide two templates for each 'learning log week'. The reason for pacing the learning log frequency, was again to save time for the research participants, yet at the same time get insight in their learning process. I only asked them to start filling in the learning logs from week 2 of the course, as past research into MOOC dynamics showed that from week 2 there is a significant drop in participation from curiosity based participants and at the same time an increase of participation from active participants. 

For those interested in having a look at the learning log template, have a look at this academia upload here. The learning log template consists of open and closed questions, allowing me to find quantitative as well as qualitative data.