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This study comes from Computers in Human Behavior, with a focus on evaluating if instructional design might differentially affect learner persistence between cultural groups. Generally speaking, MOOCs are built for everyone! The idea is that all learners with internet connection can register and complete courses. While this may allow people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to engage with learning materials, the instructional activities are administered in the exact same way, regardless of cultural differences. However, recent research suggests socioeconomic and regional differences might be related to learner persistence (Bozkurt & Aydın, 2018). The current study evaluated this gap by asking: do particular pedagogical factors play a role in this learner persistence difference?

Rizvi, Rienties, Rogaten, & Kizilcec analyzed data from over 49,000 learners covering 10 MOOCs (2021). Each course was evaluated based on various activities, including articles, discussions, videos, and quizzes. Learner persistence was measured by quantifying how far the learner progressed with the course materials until they dropped out. The researchers looked at general trends and cultural differences.

Overall, the results did show an association between an increase in articles and quizzes with a higher dropout rate. On the other hand, more discussion activities were related to a lower dropout rate. Getting into the more specific and, I think, interesting idea - does activity type impact persistence based on culture? In fact, they found that it does! When looking at articles, they found that every one unit increase was associated with an increased dropout risk rate of 7% for African, 28% for Anglo-Saxon, and 48% for Latin American learners. They also found that discussion-based activities were the most critical activity type. Overall, increasing discussions were related to a decrease in the dropout risk ratio - except for learners in South Asia and Africa (Rizvi et al., 2021). Further, the ratio was impacted differently based on culture. For a 1 unit increase in discussions, Latin American learner dropout rate decreased by 12%, learner persistence increased: 21% for South Asian learners and 9% for African learners. When looking at quizzes, results showed a negative effect such that Anglo-Saxon learners and Middle Eastern learners were deterred by 26% and 7%, respectively. Lastly, increasing the number of learning videos was associated with higher retention rates, but only for South Asian learners. This isn’t very surprising, considering past work regarding video-based learning for collectivist cultures (Reinecke & Bernstein, 2011).

What does this mean for course design? A few things stand out:

  1. Students generally preferred fewer activities, with the exception of South Asian learners.
  2. Communication-based learning activities (i.e., discussions) may actually inhibit learners from “disadvantaged, non-English speaking contexts.”
  3. Engagement was higher in courses that had a large number of assimilative activities - videos and articles. Videos were particularly influential!

Key Takeaway

Considering the results, it’s important to remain flexible in online courses. Specifically, the authors recommend ensuring that instructors utilize “a balanced approach – a combination of all types of learning activities, not just video-driven, discussion-based, or reading” in their courses.

Read More (Paywall)

Rizvi, S., Rienties, B., Rogaten, J., & Kizilcec, R. F. (In Press). Beyond on-size-fits-all in MOOCs: Variation in learning design and persistence of learners in different cultural and socioeconomic contexts. Computers in Human Behavior.

A Tip for Researchers!

Frustrated by the paywall? We get it. Potential solutions: Ask your local public librarian for access to these journals, or request the articles through your local library’s InterLibrary Loan service, “which is essential for the democratization of research” (see: InterLibrary Loan will change your life).

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