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Passive MOOC Students Don’t Retain New Knowledge, Study Finds

Students in massive open online courses are apt to take a passive approach to learning, avoiding collaboration with others, seeking only passing grades, and therefore not retaining new knowledge, a new study has found.

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University surveyed about 400 students who were taking the Harvard Medical School’s “Fundamentals of Clinical Trials,” a MOOC intended for health professionals and offered through the U.S.-based platform edX.

The researchers found that most students entered the course hoping to gain skills to boost their careers. As time passed, however, their main concerns shifted to completing the course and getting high scores, not practicing their newly acquired skills.

“Learners focused on activities such as watching videos and taking tests, with little evidence of learners’ relating new knowledge into practice, or connecting to their peers through the discussion board,” said Colin Milligan, a research fellow at the university, in a news release.

The researchers suggested that when planning courses for professionals, MOOC providers should develop engaging coursework that requires peer interaction and immediate use of new knowledge.

Otherwise, said Allison Littlejohn, a professor who was principal investigator in the study, “participants, even those with high self-regulated learning ability, tend to limit their activity to reading and interacting with course content, overlooking opportunities to use the theory they’ve learned to improve their practice.”

The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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