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Self-directed informal learning by experienced online learners enrolled in FutureLearn MOOCs

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Rebecca Ferguson
17 May 2016

Inge de Waard, Mike Sharples and Agnes Kukulska-Hulme

This research investigates the informal learning journeys of 52 experienced, adult online learners engaging in individual and/or social self-directed learning using any device to follow a FutureLearn course. Literature from MOOCs, mobile and informal learning is provided as background, as well as literature clarifying the concepts of self-directed learning, learning goals and motivation.

The participants of this study voluntarily followed one of three FutureLearn courses that were rolled out for the first time late 2014. The data were collected at three different stages: an online survey (pre-course), self-reported learning logs (during the course), and semi-structured one-on-one interviews (post-course). The data were analysed using Charmaz’s (2014) method for constructing a grounded theory. The analysis included memo-writing, and involved open coding, line-by-line coding, and theoretical sampling in order to construct a grounded theory that provided insights into the self-directed learning experiences of FutureLearn participants.

Based on the experience of the FutureLearn participants five main learning components emerged: individual & social learning preference, context, technology, organising learning, and learner characteristics. Further analysis revealed two key enablers/inhibitors for the FutureLearn experience: motivation and learning goals. Motivation was mostly intrinsic in nature, and the learning goals mostly personal. Although these components, and the two key impacting factors, are common to most types of learning, the informal nature of the FutureLearn courses together with the FutureLearn platform characteristics provided specific differences in the actions undertaken by the FutureLearn participants to self-direct their learning.

By getting a better understanding of the self-directed learning in FutureLearn courses, additional insights are gained regarding informal learning, instructional design, continued professional development with MOOCs, and on how to contextualize or personalise course content in order to obtain increased learner engagement.

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