Open, Online, and Blended: Transactional Interactions with MOOC Content by Learners in Three Different Course Formats

Jeffrey P. Emanuel, Anne Lamb


During the 2013-14 academic year, Harvard University piloted the use of MOOCs as tools for blended learning in select undergraduate and graduate residential and online courses. One of these courses, The Ancient Greek Hero, combined for—credit (Harvard College and Harvard Extension School) and open online (HarvardX) groups into a single online unit, marking the first time the same instance of a MOOC was used simultaneously by both tuition—paying, credit—seeking students and non—paying, non—credit students enrolled exclusively online. In this article, we analyze and compare the online behavior of students and participants in the three groups that simultaneously participated in The Ancient Greek Hero via the edX platform. We find that, in similar fashion to a traditional learning setting, students enrolled in all three versions of the course engaged the online content in a transactional way, spending their time and effort on activities and exercises in ways that would optimize their desired outcomes. While user behavior was diverse, HarvardX participant engagement tended to be either very deep or virtually nonexistent, while College and Extension School students displayed relatively homogenous patterns of participation, viewing most of the content but interacting mostly with that which affected their overall course grades. Ultimately, we conclude that educators who intend to utilize MOOC content in an effort to apply blended learning techniques to their classrooms should carefully consider how best to incorporate each online element into their overall pedagogical strategy, including how to incentivize interaction with those elements. Further, for MOOCs to have maximum impact, they must address multiple learner motivations and provide participants with multiple modes of interaction with the content and with their peers.


MOOC, Blended Learning, Distance Learning, Humanities, Academic Technology

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