The design and pedagogy of massive open online courses (MOOCs)

Centre for Digital Education

Research by Professor Neil Morris and Dr Bronwen Swinnerton on learner engagement and completion in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has demonstrated that inclusively designed, interactive and social MOOCs can lead to greater learner engagement and increase retention.

Through world-leading studies of course design, course duration and educator involvement the research team have developed research-based design principles for MOOCs that underpin the pedagogy and design of over 100 sector-leading online courses at the University of Leeds. These courses have attracted over 2.2 million individuals from over 170 countries since 2013, many of whom have no access to formal education.

The research-based design for MOOCs developed by this team has provided a template for course design and learner engagement for the sector to follow. Leeds’ courses on digital skills, produced in partnership with the Institute of Coding and Futurelearn, have enrolled over 500,000 learners since March 2020. These courses were included in the UK Government’s Department for Education’s Skills Toolkit to support national digital skills training and has directly influenced Government’s attempts to embed greater use of digital technology in the higher education sector to improve learning outcomes and experience.

This research has provided much needed empirical evidence about the impact of digital technology on learning, learners, teaching and teachers. The work has attracted significant external funding, has been commended by the UK Minister for Digital and teacher trainers in universities and colleges across the sector, and has resulted in changes to the design and delivery of online education provision for learners around the world.

Related research, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, and funded by ESRC, examined the development of digital education in a context of increasing marketisation and the emergence of unbundled provision. This research found that these developments exacerbated existing inequalities in access to higher education, caused tensions around the role of the university as a public good, and impacted on the role of a range of stakeholders, including academics. The research has impacted on university leaders and private companies offering unbundled provision about the future of digital education.

Read more about this research:

  • Czerniewicz, L., Mogliacci, R., Walji, S., Cliff, A., Swinnerton, B. & Morris, N. (2021). Academics teaching and learning at the nexus: unbundling, marketisation and digitisation in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education.
  • Swinnerton, B., Coop, T., Ivancheva, M., Czerniewicz, L., Morris, N.P. et al. (2020). The Unbundled University: Researching Emerging Models in an Unequal Landscape. In: Dohn, N., Jandric, O., Ryberg, T. & de Laat, M. (Eds). Mobility, Data and Learner Agency in Networked Learning. Springer, Cham.
  • Morris, N.P., Ivancheva, M, Coop, T, Mogliacci, R, Swinnerton, B. (2020). Negotiating growth of online education in higher education. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education.
  • Ivancheva, M.P., Swartz, R., Morris, N.P., Walji, S., Swinnerton, B.J et al. (2020). Conflicting logics of online higher education. British Journal of Sociology of education. 41 (5).
  • Morris, N.P., Swinnerton, B.J., Hotchkiss, S. (2016) Can demographic information predict MOOC learner outcomes? Proceedings of the European MOOC Stakeholder Summit 2015 199-207.
  • Swinnerton B.J., Hotchkiss S., Morris N.P. (2017) Comments in MOOCs: who is doing the talking and does it help? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning. 33(1), pp. 51-64.
  • Goshtasbpour, F., Swinnerton, B.J., Morris, N.P. (2020) Look who’s talking: Exploring instructors’ contributions to Massive Open Online Courses. British Journal of Educational Technology. 51(1), pp.228-244.
  • Ferguson R., Clow D., Beale R., Cooper A.J., Morris N.P., Bayne S., Woodgate A. (2015). ‘Moving through MOOCS: Pedagogy, Learning Design and Patterns of Engagement’. Design for Teaching and Learning in a Networked World. 10th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning. Proceedings.’ Lecture Notes in Computer Science 9307 pp. 70-84. Cham: Springer.