The Peril and Promise of Pre-Tests in Informal Massive Open Online Courses

The Peril and Promise of Pre-Tests in Informal Massive Open Online Courses

Maria Janelli (American Museum of Natural History, USA) and Anastasiya Lipnevich (Queens College, USA & The Graduate Center, The City University of New York, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-5074-8.ch002

Abstract

With more than 100,000,000 learners from around the world, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are a popular online learning resource. Because this type of online teaching and learning is relatively young, published MOOC research is not as voluminous as traditional educational research. This presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that best practices are not always clear, and there is not much MOOC research upon which to draw for specific instructional design strategies. The opportunity is to harness the power of MOOC platforms themselves to conduct research that examines and identifies effective digital pedagogy. In this chapter, the authors describe some of these challenges and opportunities. Specifically, they draw upon a multivariate experimental research study that examined the effects of pre-tests and feedback on learning and persistence in a MOOC. They offer practical implications that are related to study findings.
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Introduction

With more than 100,000,000 learners from around the world (Shah, 2018), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a popular self-guided online learning resource. Because this type of online teaching and learning is just a few years old, published MOOC research is not nearly as voluminous as traditional teaching and learning research. This presents researchers and educators with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that best practices are not always clear, and there is not much information upon which to draw for specific, evidence-based instructional design strategies. The opportunity is to harness the power of the MOOC platforms themselves to conduct experimental studies that examine and identify effective digital pedagogy to ensure that learners enrolled in MOOCs achieve their desired goals.

MOOCs became popular around 2012 (Pappano, 2012) and the number, variety, and contexts in which MOOCs are used continue to increase. After all, how convenient is it to be able to explore a topic of interest without ever leaving the comfort of your home? One can “attend” lectures given by the best instructors from the best schools and pick and choose which course materials to study. Besides the obvious flexibility and affordability of MOOCs, what differentiates them from traditional courses is the exorbitantly high attrition rate. Researchers report that the average rate of attrition in MOOCs is between 92 and 97% (Hew & Cheung, 2014; Williams, Stafford, Corliss, & Reilly, 2018), whereas the average attrition rate among full-time undergraduate students is approximately 19%. In 2016, the freshmen retention rate in higher education was 81% with a six-year graduation rate of 60% (Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates, 2019).

In this chapter we describe some of these challenges and opportunities in greater detail. Specifically, we draw upon a recent study (Janelli, 2019; Janelli & Lipnevich, in press) that used a multivariate experiment with random assignment to examine the effects of pre-tests and feedback on learners’ performance and persistence in a five-week massive open online course, and offer practical implications that are related to the study’s findings.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Pre-Tests: Tests that are administered prior to instruction for one of several reasons, such as formative assessment, to establish a baseline against which learning can be measured, as instructional materials, for student placement, etc.

Feedback: Any information about a performance that learners can use to improve performance or learning. Feedback might come from a teacher, a peer, the learner observing the results of his or her efforts, or the task itself. It may include information on where the learner is, where the learner is going, or what steps should be taken and strategies employed to get there.

Coursera: One of the leading providers of massive open online courses. The Coursera platform includes an administrative interface that allows researchers to design and conduct multivariate experiments with random assignment.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Online courses offered by professors from universities around the world and hosted on platforms such as Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn; they range from being completely free with no course credit to being paid-for experiences that culminate in certificates, undergraduate or graduate credits, micro-degrees, or degrees.

Educational Technology: Media that is researched and iteratively designed and developed to facilitate teaching and learning.

Assessment: Evaluation of performance and learning.

Informal Online Learning: Self-guided digital pursuit of knowledge, information, and community that happens outside formal educational programs such as degree-based programs or structured online professional development modules.

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