What’s so great about massive?

We know the numbers of registrations for massive open online courses (MOOCs) are impressive. Ten thousand, fifty thousand, a hundred thousand – both universities and platform providers love to publicise these huge numbers. But what are the benefits of scale for those involved? Is this just a cheaper (on a per-person) basis) way of providing education? Does it offer any pedagogic benefits for learners and educators? Is there any benefit of learning in a MOOC that I wouldn’t get from one-to-one teaching?

Mike Sharples and I analysed MOOCs on the FutureLearn platform in order to identify the advantages and challenges of teaching and learning at scale, which need to be taken into account in learning design and from a platform perspective.

  • For learners, scale offers access to support from a wide range of other learners, to resources provided by those learners, and to a range of perspectives.
  • For educators, scale offers affective benefits, opportunities for increased access to resources, and a motivation to develop teaching practice.
  • For society, scale offers potential to develop tools and resources for use in other contexts, to change professional practice, to increase access to education and to achieve global impact.
  • The challenges of scale include the need to navigate, filter and make sense of resources, and for learners to be able to access good quality, trustworthy support. MOOCs offer the potential to open up education for those who were previously excluded but, in order to do so, must take on the challenges associated with disability and disadvantage.

More details in the attached pre-print of a paper by Mike and I, ‘Innovative pedagogy at massive scale’, which has been accepted for EC-TEL 2014.

Massive Pedagogy preprint


This paper looks at the implications for pedagogy of education at a massive scale. It begins by looking at educational approaches designed or adapted to be effective for large numbers of learners: direct instruction, networked learning, connectivism, supported open learning, and conversational learning at scale. It goes on to identify benefits and the challenges of teaching and learning at scale. A grounded approach was used to analyse data from 18 MOOCs run on the UK-based FutureLearn platform. This identified benefits and challenges for learners, for educators and for society as a whole. These need to be addressed in two ways, through learning design and through platform design.


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