In this guest post Darco Jansen, Programme Manager at European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) explores the cultural differences between the US and Europe in their take up of MOOCs.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have continued to attract considerable media coverage as governments and universities respond to the open and online education movement. One important aspect for this interest and investments in MOOCs is the massiveness and subsequently the scalability aspects of course provision.
A MOOC in the English language generally attracts about 5,000-50,000 nowadays (record is 226.652, but is generally lower in less spoken languages). This scalability is enabled by technology which reduces both the variable and fixed costs significantly. Some even argue that MOOCs might be a solution to the world’s need for tertiary education and have calculated the number of MOOCs we need worldwide. Consequently MOOCs generate a lot of data and are subject of research on the possibilities of big data and learning analytics. But there are some complexities.
First the data is not available in just one MOOC platform. Moreover in Europe a decentralised model for MOOC platforms seems to be embraced with a) European MOOC providers offering a platform related to one single language and b) with partnership stimulating a decentralized model where partners host their own MOOC platform (e.g. OpenupEd and Eco-project).
Next the objectives for using this data differs strongly. A recent EADTU report on the “Institutional MOOC strategies in Europe” clearly demonstrates that involvement in Europe is still increasing, but also that arguments to get involved differ from those in the US. The most dominant objectives for both continents is to increase institutional visibility and using MOOCs for reputation reasons. The objectives related to finance (explore cost reduction, generate income) and scalability dimension of MOOCs are not seen as primary objective in both continents. Next the report states that in the US using MOOCs for student recruitment is seen as the most important primary objective of institutions, while in Europe it is rather to reach new students and creating flexible learning opportunities (for those new students).
Hence, for learning analytics in the European context we should take into account the diversity in MOOC platforms, language & culture as well as in personalised and flexible learning paths. Moreover, the diversity of MOOC participants’ intentions and backgrounds and the unconstrained synchronicity of their activities make the MOOC context very different from traditional education. In the context of MOOCs the heterogeneity in the learner population asks for personalised learning analytics that are geared towards the intentions of (groups of) the learners.