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An investigation into participant engagement in Massive Open Online Courses

Nazir, U. (2023) An investigation into participant engagement in Massive Open Online Courses. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00115922


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) carry considerable potential to educate those who cannot afford formal education, however low retention rates still haunt MOOC providers – with only five percent of users completing existing courses (Jordan, 2014). Since MOOCs are open to all, MOOC participants have varying intentions; including users who join to complete the course and those who do not. Therefore, it is important to learn how to facilitate a willing learner to continue and complete the course. Hence, engaging strategies must be implemented for a willing learner to meet the learning objectives on MOOC. Accordingly, this study investigates the retention element of MOOC, to understand the reasons for low completion, and proposes strategies of how students can be encouraged to engage and/or continue using the MOOC to completion. This research is organised in a series of chapters to provide a comprehensive understanding of student behaviour. chapter 1 and chapter 2 focus on understanding and defining the issue through reviewing existing literature. Chapter 3 explains the methodology used to address the problem. Chapter 4 explores when the users are most likely to leave the course and reasons for it. The findings reveal that the highest number of people leave on the very first day of a course. The main reasons identified highlight gaps in literature linked to i) a lack of response on the MOOC forums, and ii) a change in user intention to continue or leave a MOOC. Subsequently, Chapter 5 delves deeper into exploring these reasons in the form of studying behavioural patterns of users on forums who complete or not complete the course, and Chapter 6 investigates the reasons for change in user intention to continue with the course. The findings of the study on forum activity (chapter 5) confirms that not all finishers leave comments on the forum, however most of the comments on the forums are from course graduates. Accordingly, forum activity on MOOCs shows that the completers post the most responses on the forum, and answer rather than initiate queries. Hence, strategies that encourage greater individual participation in the forums would support user engagement and continuance. The qualitative study on the reasons for change in continuance intention of users (chapter 6) identified several key factors, which were then compared with the existing literature to ascertain contribution to the list of factors of course continuance intentions of the users - taking breaks in between the course and ease of leaving the course were discovered as two such factors. Chapter 7 then conducts a validation study to ascertain the significance of these two factors. It is found that taking breaks in between the course is not significantly related to leaving the course earlier than intended, whereas ease of leaving the course is significantly related to making the willing participant to leave the course earlier than intended. Based on these findings, the study proposes corresponding strategies to improve user engagement such that a willing user continues using MOOC. Finally, Chapter 8 provides a concise research summary, addresses limitations and discusses future research possibilities. It also highlights the theoretical and practical contributions made by the study. The theoretical contributions of this study include uncovering and validating an extensive list of reasons on why a MOOC participant leaves earlier or stays longer than intended. It also adds to the knowledge bank in the field by utilising the ECM model and highlighting the importance of ease of leaving a MOOC as an important factor that can impact participant intention to continue with the course. The practical contributions of this study offer valuable insights and actionable strategies to MOOC providers in order to get a willing learner to engage and continue using the course, which can translate into better reputation and financial returns. Some of the strategies are: providing timely feedback, a well-designed intro of the course, encouraging and providing opportunities for participants to interactions on MOOC, using a reward system such as certificates and badges to keep the participant engaged and motivated to continue using the course.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Gulliver, S.
Thesis/Report Department:Business Informatics, Systems and Accounting
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Henley Business School > Business Informatics, Systems and Accounting
ID Code:115922


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