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For students MOOC is more than just a course

A recent study shows that learning from others also encourages students at open online courses to continue in the online community after the course.

Researchers at the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT and the University of Helsinki discovered new ways of learning when studying the online community that had come into existence during massive open online courses (MOOCs) on programming organised by the University of Helsinki. Course participants were able to discuss programming problems with other students on a chat channel on a real-time basis. 

– We noticed that many of the students stayed on the chat channel of the courses that we had examined even though the course itself had ended. This is quite exceptional because students usually leave the course forums and chat channels immediately after the course. When interviewing the participants, we realised that they felt that they were learning new things by providing new students with advice or by simply using the task-solution strategies created by others, explains Matti Nelimarkka, a researcher at HIIT.

It is quite easy for a new participant to join an existing chat community and ask for help.  Teachers organising online courses should find use for these communities and for the eagerness of the students to participate in the courses and to study in the community created during the courses.

Organisers of international MOOC courses delete all content of the online service created during the courses before the next course starts. This prevents the creation of the communities of alumni and students that were discovered in the study on Finnish online courses.

– It may sound strange but there are very few MOOC courses with a large number of participants where community building is encouraged, explains Arto Vihavainen.

On large international courses, community building has been promoted by for example having an arrangement in which a teacher or a machine asks questions from previous courses. This generates discussion and encourages new students to join the discussion.

The Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT and the RAGE research group of the University of Helsinki presented the results of the study at the international Learning @ Scale conference on 14 March 2015. The conference focused on the problems of massive open online courses, learning analytics and how students can be supported. Stanford and Harvard Universities and the University of California, Berkeley also gave presentations at the meeting.

The research work has received funding from the Learning & Design project, which is part of the Learning Solutions programme of Tekes.

Further information:

Doctoral candidate Matti Nelimarkka
[email protected] 
tel. +358 50 527 5920

University instructor Arto Vihavainen
[email protected]
tel. +358 44 351 1983

Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT; http://www.hiit.fi/ 

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