Evidence of the impact of MOOCs at Leicester

MOOCs at Leicester have had a positive impact in a number of ways, which are closely aligned to the strategic plans of the institution. These are highlighted below.


Innovation in teaching and learning

MOOCs allow us to keep pace with changes in technology enhanced learning and innovative pedagogies, meeting the strategic aim to design and deliver the best campus-­based and online educational experience we can. We are working to apply a MOOC methodology to curriculum design: feeding into the changes around the academic year, module size, quality processes and flexible pathways.

With a total of over 84,000 registrations on our MOOCs so far, we have gathered rich pedagogic data which is influencing the design of our degree courses. The large number of learners provides us with a low cost and low risk way of trying out new pedagogical approaches, or even piloting new courses. For example, we could create a short six­-week online course to test the market before developing a full degree programme. Learner data can also be used to detect patterns in learner behaviour and demographics. This valuable data will help us deliver teaching and encourage learning that is transformative, demanding and enjoyably challenging.

Although we have a long history of online learning through our distance learning provision, MOOCs have given us an opportunity to think about online learning in fresh ways. There have been many changes over the last decade in learning technology; meaning distance learning has become more mainstream, and people expect to be able to access simple effective learning from anywhere, through storytelling, discussion, and community support. The School of Museum Studies have used their experience of developing content for the MOOC to remodel one of their programmes, moving towards a more media-­rich, online learning resource. They predict that over the next couple of years they are likely to see a big change in how distance learning is delivered, and this is, in no small part, due to the MOOC and the fact that the majority of staff in the School were engaged in its development.

In the case of Richard III, Museum Studies and Forensic Science, undergraduates in related subjects have indicated that they took the MOOCs to complement their current studies, or before beginning a campus based course so they could begin to engage with their studies.

MOOCs have encouraged professional development, for example MOOC to Mainstream curriculum design workshops run by the LLI have been very well received, both internally and externally, and are helping to promote good curriculum design and academic practice in a way that people have struggled to engage with in the past.

As MOOCs are made up of a strong narrative of videos, audio, articles, case studies and other rich media elements, assets produced for the MOOCs can easily be dual­-purposed in a variety of ways. For example, since creating the Richard III course, Deirdre O’Sullivan (Archaeology and Ancient History) has re­used the ideas and materials created for the MOOC in campus based courses, and has developed new innovative ways of teaching. This development of staff skills helps to meet the strategic plan to build expertise and confidence and encourage staff to be transformative in their work and ambitions.

Extending brand awareness and building a strong international network

The worldwide reach of MOOCs allows us to showcase the quality of our teaching and learning to a large audience. The University aims to draw upon and contribute to the international awareness, experience and aspirations of our students and staff and develop an internationalized curriculum, which looks outward and engages us in the most important global questions. MOOCs have enabled us to respond rapidly to events and news stories, for example, the Richard III MOOC was written to build on the interest generated by his discovery in 2012. Subsequent runs of the course were launched to coincide with Richard III’s reinterment, and included live Twitter feeds on the events of the week, which resulted in over 600 new Twitter followers from all over the world, helping to further enhance our online profile.

The data collected from MOOCs also helps to give a good picture of learner demographic, helping us to tailor our marketing appropriately. Our post-­MOOC mailing list has already registered over 2,000 new contacts, with whom we can continue to build relationships.

MOOCs are a good opportunity for learners to take a short course as a taster to help engage current enquirers and applicants to continue their interest. With the Museum Studies MOOC learners were offered a virtual open day via webinar, and several potential applicants were active in asking questions about study and research.

The MOOCs are a unique chance to promote ourselves, as we have the potential of six weeks contact with an interested audience of several thousand to showcase our learning, teaching and research, in a very cost effective way.

MOOCs enable us to open up new markets, and the data so far shows that we have learners from 99 countries. The majority of learners are UK based (avg. 64%) but we also have large audiences in the US, Australia, Canada and Ireland, which means we are developing a blended and flexible approach in which students in Leicester and across the globe can benefit from a Leicester education at a pace and in a way that best suits them. In 2015 FutureLearn as a whole had 70% of visits from outside the UK.

Generating an alternative channel for research dissemination

MOOCs are an ideal channel for both disseminating research and generating research data. For example, the teaching in Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum draws extensively on the internationally influential research produced by the School of Museum Studies, supporting the strategic aim to support and enable scholars to find new and innovative ways of undertaking and communicating their research.

England in the Time of King Richard III was an ideal platform to gather data from a large demographic. The discussions on the MOOC platform provided a rich source of contemporary understandings of a variety of topics, including the cultural and social value of historical re-­enactments, the conservation of historic battlefields, and the place of medieval heritage in English towns and cities. With several thousand contributors, the MOOC has created a quantifiable database of what people today think about such matters. The fact that the social, cultural and age profile of the MOOC participants is known to some degree is an added advantage, and the MOOC responses constitute a far more abundant and diverse resource than consumer­-focussed exit questionnaires from specific historic sites. The potential for MOOCs to collect cultural data of this kind painlessly is substantial. Outputs so far include a presentation by Deirdre O’Sullivan in 2013 at a multi­-disciplinary conference in Nottingham on Battlefield Archaeologies: Scenes of Reconstruction, focussed substantially around the much more contemporary topic of the Falklands War; and input into the research of a current PhD student, Mark Webb, on the cultural value of medieval urban heritage.

This potential for large scale data gathering helps to underpin the University’s aim to value excellent research in all its forms, from the fundamental and conceptual, which lays the foundations of new knowledge, to the applied and translational work that delivers social and economic impact.

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