Reflecting on symposium ORD Antwerp 2017: The challenges of open online education

The annual conference, the Education Research Days (ORD) took place last month in Antwerp. At this large dutch speaking conference, both Flemish and Dutch researchers within the education field present their work. Part of this conference was the symposium ‘The challenges of open online education / MOOCs” where also some members of the SOONER research team presented their work.

Variation ORD & Open Online Education

The palette of presentations, posters and discussions on the Education Research Days is colourful. The variation is not only on the level of education that’s under investigation, but also at the level of observation. Where some researchers focus the student and study how learning takes place, others look back at the design of a course, and others focus on school organisations and policies. The variation within these themes can also be high due to the diversity of research methods and contexts. This wide range of topics represented at the ORD also offers the opportunity to present our research on open online education. Previously, open online education often seemed the odd one out. This year, however, the symposium: “The challenges of open online education / MOOCs” attracted a fair amount of people. It was nice to see that a number of interesting discussions started. We look back on the presented topics of researchers from the Open University of the Netherlands and Utrecht University, as well as the subsequent discussion.

The relationship between motivation, self-regulation and learning behaviour in MOOCs
by Renée Jansen, Anouschka van Leeuwen, Jeroen Janssen, Liesbeth Kester
Universiteit Utrecht

Renée Jansen’s work focuses on self-regulation and learning behavior of students participating in massive open online courses (MOOCs). In the study she presented during the ORD, she explained how she used data from MOOCs to gain insight into the extent to which learners display self-regulatory behavior, and in what way this occurs. She investigated this by using a process mining approach in PROM, a tool that was originally designed to optimize manufacturing processes. This is a fairly new method in the field of education. She has been able to distinguish different behaviours of learners by analyzing so-called log data. The context of a MOOC makes it possible to capture everything that is learned in the online learning environment. For example, every click on a page and every pause in a video is being recorded. By linking this log data to questionnaire data, she has identified different categories of self-regulation among the learners. Her follow-up research will further refine this study. There are also plans to design interventions based on the findings that may support self-regulation in MOOCs.

How do you identify knowledge exchange and knowledge construction in a MOOC? 
by Olga Firssova, Francis Brouns
Open Universiteit

Olga Firssova is working at the Welten Institute of Open University and is closely involved in the distance education programme of the institute. In addition, she also does research regarding knowledge exchange and knowledge construction in MOOCs. She presented an explorative study that examined how learning could be mapped in a MOOC. By analyzing online data relating to the components of the learning environment of a MOOC, she discovered that there is a clear difference between groups within this MOOC. In groups with more messages, there was also more variation of topics and the conversations were longer. In less active groups, conversations did not take off after the start of the course. The qualitative analysis also seemed to point out that the groups with more contributions “send” more, but also tend to elaborate on knowledge and respond to each other. Reflections on students’ own practice in relation to the MOOC appear to trigger the exchange of knowledge the most. This exploratory study also found that the combination of quantitative analysis with simple content encoding of online discussion forums enables a quick way to provide teachers and designers with an insight into the quality of knowledge exchange by learners.

Opportunities and challenges for open online education and the implications for the organization of Dutch higher education institutions
by Martine Schophuizen, Karel Kreijns, Slavi Stoyanov, Marco Kalz
Open Universiteit

Where Renée focuses on student-level research, Martine’s work is about the organizational level of open online education. At the ORD she presented her first study where she collected data from 22 project leaders who lead innovation projects within several Dutch higher education institutions. As a method she used group concept mapping; a structured way to gain insight into a specific theme, in her case the opportunities and challenges of open online education. She identified 8 main themes as experienced by the project leaders of these innovation projects. A unique aspect of this study is the fact that it gave insight into the people that hands-on work with open online education implementation. Despite the fact that there is already research at the level of national policy, little is known from this perspective. The ambitions, and thus the chances of open online education, as found in previous policy studies, were also identified in this study. But there were also quite a number of challenges facing the practitioners within these organizations: a skills gap was found among teachers regarding the development and teaching of open online education. In addition, there was also a lack of support both in strategic vision and policy and at practical level. As a next step in her research, Martine wants to get a deeper understanding of these challenges. Therefore she organises focus groups with the various project leaders in order to gain insight into the solutions they have found and the sustainability of these solutions. In addition, she wants to identify mechanisms in the organisation (for example, organisational leadership and adoption of innovation) that are important for the successful implementation of open online education. In particular, for this purpose large questionnaire studies will be conducted.


Compared to last year, the subject of open online education seemed to be more popular. This was noticeable because of the increased participation for the symposium, and also the reactions after the presentations. Afterwards, a number of questions were spontaneously asked by the audience. These were methodological questions, questions of a theoretical nature, and even recent publications in the news were mentioned as a starting point for a discussion. In addition to this highly appreciated input, Prof. Dr. Wilfried Admiraal, working at Leiden University, commented on the presented studies. His comments were based on what the public has brought up before, and added some open questions and points for consideration. What stood out in this symposium was mainly the need from the audience to learn more about open online education. More and more, this form of education is finding its way in the Flemish and Dutch education system, and therefore people are also looking for solutions to their problems. Unfortunately, for us as researchers, there is still no answer to all of these questions, but it is our responsibility to continue our work to hope to answer again a few more questions next year. In total, the symposium was very successful. We hope to be back at the ORD 2018 in Nijmegen.

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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