Project-Based Learning in MOOCs

Exceptionally,  today’s post is in English. It deals with a type of pedagogy that is hardly visible in the MOOC movement, but that deserves more attention than it has received to date: Project-Based Learning. This blog post is an introduction to coming articles on experiences from MOOC learners who registered to a MOOC where I implemented Project-Based Learning.

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a “model that organizes learning around projects” (Thomas et al. 200); PBL approaches are “focused on questions or problems that drive learners to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline”. Norman and Schmidt (1992) have laid emphasis on the several benefits of this approach: it fosters self-direction and problem solving abilities, information retention and the development of higher order skills. Over the past few years, several team project-based MOOCs have been launched among both traditional platforms like Coursera and specialized platforms like Novoed, raising questions over the scalability of this approach.

These courses often include lectures and compulsory assignments, such as in so-called instructivist xMOOCs (Daniel 2012), and lay a great emphasis on interactions between peers such as in connectivist cMOOCs (Siemens 2004). Implementation of PBL in MOOCs appears to be promising in many ways. On the one hand, these courses often gather thousands of participants from various backgrounds, opening the way to potentially enriching collaborations. Moreover, team work may prove to be efficient way to tackle dropout. On the other hand, the lack of proper incentives and constraints is likely to interfere with the development of team projects. In order to get a better understanding of the challenges posed by the implementation of PBL in MOOCs, we designed a project-based MOOC on MOOC Design and conducted several interviews with learners who registered to the course. We tried to address the following questions. What are participants’ motivations to engage in projects and teamwork? What challenges do participants face in project-based MOOCs and what strategies do they follow to deal with them? Does PBL foster the development of personal networks ?

PBL research has developed over the years in the field of distance education (DE). Whether they are based on the identification of roles based on the analysis of asynchronous interactions among team members, or its implementation in virtual reality (Jarmon 2008), researches were mostly developed outside of the boundary of Open Education (OE). Despite the impressive amount of reports (Ho et al. 2014, 2015) and research articles (Ebben 2014, Raffaghelli 2015) on xMOOCs,  little is known on the implementation of PBL in the MOOCs context. Scarcity of data is likely to be one of the main reasons for the current situation. Insights that learning analytics provide on individual activities such as watching videos or answering to quizzes have proven particularly useful in the context of xMOOCs (Kizilcec 2013, Anderson 2014), but are of limited interest to understand project and team dynamics in a PB-MOOC.

Another question rised by the implementation of PBL in MOOCs is the development of learners’ networks, as team work enables to create small and stable group interactions. Despite the fact that many researchers and practitioners of the pioneer courses (Chamberlin & Parish, 2011; Cormier, 2010a, 2010b; McAuley, Stewart, Siemens, & Cormier, 2010; Weller, 2011)  have laid emphasis on this aspect cMOOCs, the initial wave of publications has let this issue largely unaddressed; despite a dramatic increase of the body of literature on MOOCs (Raffaghelli 2015), research publications, whether on cMOOCs or xMOOCs focused on the interactions that take place within the boundaries of the MOOC forums and social networks.

The blog posts to come aim at deepening our understanding of learners’ experiences while collaborating with peers via both quantitative and qualitative methods. The use of such qualitative approaches in Mixed-Method Researches have gained momentum in the MOOC scientific community (Raffaghelli 2015), enabling to apprehend learners’ experiences (Veletsianos et al. 2015) in a more comprehensive way. We will notably discuss of the issues rised by the implementation of PBL in such open environments.


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