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Communication patterns in massively open online courses
Journal Article
The Internet and Higher Education
Volume 23, Issue October 2014, Pages 18 - 26, Start page 18
Published October 2014

Despite the hype and speculation about the role massively open online courses (MOOCs) may play in higher education, empirical research that explores the realities of interacting and learning in MOOCs is in its infancy. MOOCs have evolved from previous incarnations of online learning but are distinguished in their global reach and semi-synchronicity. Thus, it is important to understand the ways that learners from around the world interact in these settings. In this paper, we ask three questions: (1) What are the demographic characteristics of students that participate in MOOC discussion forums? (2) What are the discussion patterns that characterize their interactions? And (3) How does participation in discussion forums relate to students' final scores? Analysis of nearly 87,000 individuals from one MOOC reveals three key trends. First, forum participants tend to be young adults from the Western world. Secondly, these participants assemble and disperse as crowds, not communities, of learners. Finally, those that engage explicitly in the discussion forums are often higher-performing than those that do not, although the vast majority of forum participants receive “failing” marks. These findings have implications for the design and implementation of future MOOCs, and how they are conceptualised as part of higher education.

• Empirical investigations of how people interact in MOOCs warrant significant attention
• Forum participants are well-educated, primarily from the Western world, and want to gain skills that will help them professionally.
• MOOC discussion forums harbour crowds, not communities of learners.
• Higher-performing students use the discussion forums, but they do not only interact with other higher-performing students.

ISSN: 10967516
Other information: The Internet and Higher Education

Refereed: Yes
Rights: © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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