What are the expectations of disabled learners when participating in a MOOC?

What are the expectations of disabled learners when participating in a MOOC?

A short summary of the work in progress paper ‘What are the expectations of disabled learners when participating in a MOOC?’ which was presented at L@S: Fourth Annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale

By Francisco Iniesto, PhD research student, Open World Learning, Institute of Educational Technology, The Open University

MOOCs are making low cost learning opportunities available at large scale to diverse groups of learners. For that reason, MOOCs need to be accessible so that they can offer flexibility of learning and benefits to all. In order to direct efforts towards developing accessible MOOCs, it is important to understand the current expectations of disabled learners.

Expectations of disabled learners

This particular study aims to understand the current expectations of disabled learners when taking part in MOOCs. To explore this, data is analysed from surveys conducted with a set of FutureLearn MOOCs that were designed and delivered by the Open University (OU).  A sample of eight MOOC presentations from 2015 were selected to cover a range of subjects: The Science of Nutrition, Elements of Renewable Energy, Learn to code for data analysis, Smart Cities, The Business of film, The Lottery of Birth, Understanding Musical Scores and Get Started with Online learning.

Responses to the same pre- and post-course surveys were requested from learners across all eight MOOCs. Those completing these surveys are asked to indicate if they consider themselves to have a disability.

Preliminary results

Our preliminary study uses this to allow comparison focussed on three key questions in the survey that can be used to understand the expectations of disabled learners from MOOCs: Why are you interested in studying this course?, Which of the following subject areas are you interested in?;  and, What sort of online course have you taken?

Limitations to this analysis are that it was undertaken with a small number of MOOC presentations, and that a simple disability marker may not reflect diversity within the population. It should not be assumed that these results generalise to the whole of the disabled learner population, or that this population is homogenous in nature. Nevertheless, some preliminary findings can be drawn for further investigation:

  • The proportions of disabled learners taking part in MOOCs and responding to these surveys are lower than the disabled population in general, and also below current proportions found in OU registered students and in the Open Educational Resources (OERs) repository OpenLearn.
  • In comparison with other learners, disabled learners are particularly interested in taking up MOOCs to determine if they can study at a higher educational level and to link to voluntary work. They are less interested in the relevance of the MOOC to their work, or in using MOOCs to improve their English.  
  • Based on this initial analysis, disabled learners appear to be more interested in these subject areas: Society, History and Arts and Nature and Environment. Languages seem to be of least interest.
  • Finally, disabled learners have previous experience in online courses that allows them to get university credit, which is related to their interest in studying at a higher educational level. They have less experience of participating in online courses for continuing professional development. They have more previous experience using OERs than MOOCs.

Current and future work

Results from disabled learners are compared with those of other learners and preliminary findings are used to frame an agenda for our further work. Planned work with this data includes the following aspects:

  • It would appear fruitful to include related data in the analysis, such as demographics, completion rate and satisfaction.
  • Including categories of disability, (e.g. Visual impairment, hard of hearing or learning difficulties) will provide greater insight into differences within the population of disabled learners.
  • Extensions to the analysis approach to include clustering of responses, and identification of correlations.
  • Increase the sample to more MOOCs and their survey data to form a more comprehensive picture.
  • Undertake a qualitative interview study of learners to capture the disabled learners’ experiences with MOOCs in depth. This study, which has been finished at the moment of writing this blogpost, will be useful to understand in detail the accessibility issues learners may be facing in MOOCs.

Read the full paper written by Francisco Iniesto, Patrick McAndrew, Shailey Minocha and Tim Coughlan in Open Research Online (ORO) 

Research insights