Are MOOCs pedagogically innovative?

While claims about pedagogic innovation in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are common (eg, Grainger, 2013; MOOCs@Edinburgh Group, 2013; Sharples et al, 2014; University of British Columbia, 2014), most reports provide no evidence to justify those claims. I recently published a paper with my colleague (and former supervisor) Alejandro Armellini on this topic. We report on a survey aimed at exploring how different stakeholders describe MOOCs, focusing on whether they would consider them pedagogically innovative, and if so, why. Respondents (n = 106) described MOOCs primarily as free, openly accessible online courses that attract large numbers of participants. Views on pedagogic innovation fell into three categories:

1) MOOCs are pedagogically innovative (15.1%). Explanations referred to massiveness, openness and connectivism. None of the participants offered a clear definition of or criteria for pedagogic innovation.

2) MOOCs are not pedagogically innovative (84.9%). More than half of the respondents added an unsolicited opinion, including strong criticisms of MOOCs.

3) MOOCs may or may not be pedagogically innovative. Umbrella terms (such as “pedagogically innovative”) were seen as unhelpful to describe all types of MOOCs.

The evidence suggests that caution should be exercised when characterising MOOCs as pedagogically innovative. Concrete practices within specific MOOCs may constitute pedagogic innovations in the areas of course design and delivery, such as the student-created assignment bank and the radio station of the cMOOC DS106. However, these practices are not exclusive to MOOCs: they can (and do) occur in any course, across different modes of study. The MOOC environment did not prompt them.

MOOCs provide good examples of technological innovation but also of highly debatable approaches to pedagogy. They may be deemed valuable as massive open online resources (MOORs), but far less so in terms of being pedagogically innovative courses. We should be cautious about applying blanket terms to describe different types of MOOCs. However, based on the evidence currently available and contrary to what many reports claim, MOOCs cannot be described as inherently pedagogically innovative.

The full paper is available at:


Grainger, B. (2013). Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Report. London, UK: University of London. Retrieved from 2013.pdf

MOOCs@Edinburgh Group. (2013). MOOCs @ Edinburgh 2013: Report #1. Retrieved from 1.pdf

Sharples, M., Adams, A., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., … Whitelock, D. (2014). Innovating Pedagogy 2014: Open University Innovation Report 3. Milton Keynes, UK: The Open University.

University of British Columbia. (2014). UBC MOOC Pilot: Design and delivery overview. Retrieved from nce=1


MOOCs behind the scenes

Since Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) emerged in 2008, they’ve made a lot of noise. They have intrigued, challenged and fascinated (some of) us. However, the literature on them is still limited and is mostly focused on the learners, with a significant minor focus on the institutional perspective (see Liyanagunawardena, Adams, & Williams, 2013).

Today I presented a paper -coauthored with Alejandro Armellini & Viviana Caceres– at Global Learn 2016 on how MOOCs are conceptualised, designed, developed, implemented and evaluated: MOOCs behind the scenes. The discussion that followed was enriching. There are many questions: Where is the institutional, overarching pedagogical strategy that guides MOOC-related decisions? Why are MOOCs failing to benefit from OERs? How can we assess the effectiveness of a MOOC when MOOC participants have all sorts of reasons to join a MOOC?

My presentation is available in Slideshare with a CC-licence. Feel free to share and to contact me if you have any questions or comments.



Liyanagunawardena, T., Adams, A., & Williams, S. (2013). MOOCs: A systematic study of the published literature 2008-2012. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 14(3), 202-227. Retrieved from

Study Skills MOOC

oew2016-badge-small.pngAs part of my post-doc research at UANL, I am studying a Study Skills MOOC, inspired by and developed in partnership with the University of Northampton. The aim is help students improve their self-efficacy beliefs and develop key study skills:

  1. Managing time
  2. Taking effective notes
  3. Finding reliable information
  4. Citing using APA format
  5. Understanding academic texts
  6. Academic writing

This course is available on Open Education Blackboard, or via the direct link:  It will be delivered in Spanish.

On Twitter we are using the hashtag #hemooc (add @BrendaPadilla to obtain a direct response).

Joining is free! We are starting on May 2, 2016. We look forward to this experience.


MOOCs on Learning and Course Design

Along with Prof Gráinne Conole and Dr Paul Rudman, on the 29th Feb 2016 I will deliver two massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the European platform EMMA:

  • Designing Online Courses with the 7Cs Framework. The 7Cs represent a powerful seven-stage process that helps educators and designers create effective courses using digital technologies. In this course, students will learn collaboratively with other students and from experts in the field. Throughout 6 weeks, they will work on the design (or redesign!) of a technologically enhanced course.
  • 21st Century Learning . Online technologies, social media and open education have made learning ubiquitous.  This course provides an introduction to 21st century learning practices. Students will have a chance to evaluate their digital literacies, create their own personal learning environment, find open educational resources, explore virtual worlds and more!

These courses have no cost. They are aimed at academics, teachers and people interested in education, in general. Please feel free to join!

The nightmare of attributing OERs

Recently, I worked with Gabi Witthaus in the development and delivery of the Storyboarding for Learning Design Open Online Course (OOC), with Jeff Stanford’s support as a facilitator. We designed the course drawing from our experience in topic-related workshops. We used open educational resources (OERs), which are materials released under a licence that permits their free use and re-purposing. Some, we had developed ourselves. Others were created by other academics. Attributing everything correctly was a nightmare.

As I was working in the Storyboarding OOC, I was also working in the redesign of a MOOC on Learning Design, which will be delivered in EMMA. I was simultaneously creating activities and materials for both courses. While each course is unique, the content is similar. Eventually I had to ask myself: Should I say that the EMMA MOOC is based on the OOC or the OOC based on the EMMA MOOC? Should I attribute my own work? Is a note at the beginning of the OOC, stating that I am a co-creator of the materials, enough for people to understand that everything that does not state otherwise was created by me? How important is it to be that specific?

For both courses, I used OERs I have used in the past. I decided to check if my previous attributions were correct. I discovered that some OERs were widely used, but it was unclear who the original author was. For example: I found an OER used by A, who attributed the OER to B. However, I could also find the same OER attributed to C, and to D, and to E. So who was the actual creator? Sometimes, when I find an OER without an attribution, I assume the author of whatever I am looking at is also the author of the OER (for example: imagine an image within a text; if the image has no attribution, I assume the author of the text is also the creator of the image). A number of people seem to share my assumption. What if the assumption is incorrect? What if the author simply did not write the correct attribution? Who to attribute then? If both B and C use an OER without attributing it, how do you know who is the actual author?

And this is just the beginning. One of the activities is about how to ruin a course. A similar activity was developed in the past by Rebecca Galley and the OULDI team at the Open University UK, 2009. However, our version of this activity is very different. The idea behind it is the same, but everything else is different. Should we attribute it? In other words, how much does an OER need to be modified before it doesn’t really make sense to attribute it? For the OOC, we decided to have a note stating that our activity was inspired by the other OER.

But sometimes it is trickier than that. Have you ever had an “original” idea that -you later find out- was published before by someone else? I have created activities that I later find as OERs elsewhere. (A simple example: Think about a welcome activity where you ask participants to introduce themselves. Lots of people have created a similar activity.) What do you do about it in terms of attribution? Is it really your work? What if you had seen that OER before but you didn’t remember?

Sometimes I look for several OERs on the same topic and I create my own resource based on them. Should I attribute all the OERs? None at all? Only the one that had the most influence on my resource? What if the lines are not clear cut?

Finally, what if I want to use an OER that was inspired by another one? (The Storyboarding OOC’s activity on how to ruin a course is a great example of this). Should I attribute both the creator of the OER and the inspirators?

Attributing OERs gives me a headache.

OER Attribution Problems

  1. Creating similar materials for two courses and having to decide if one is based on the other one.
  2. Finding the original author of widely used OERs with unclear attributions.
  3. Deciding if being inspired by an OER is enough to require an attribution, or how much does an OER need to be modified before you can’t really say it is based on someone else’s work.
  4. Attributing a resource based on several OERs.

I don’t have answers for all my questions. But I’ve come up with certain ideas that help. Using full OERs (not trying to build upon several of them or change them considerably) prevents lots of problems. Also, favouring public domain resources (thank you all who let everyone use your work without minding the attribution) works, especially when you want to build upon materials. Attribution builders available online help you establish a standard when attributing and identify data required. They also provide guidance on how to attribute derivative works (thank you, Gabi, for the info!). 

If you have any other answers or suggestions, please share! I would be more than happy to learn.

MOOCs reloaded: Redesigning two MOOCs in EMMA

Cool techie image of Neo from the movie The Matrix

Image courtesy of Sudhee | Flickr


In October 2014 I was part of a team at the University of Leicester working in the EMMA (European Multiple MOOC Aggregator) platform. We ran a pilot of two massive open online courses (MOOCs): Learning Design and Technology-Enhanced Learning. We had over 60 participants in each of these courses. It was an interesting experience that has enabled us to improve our MOOCs.


We are currently getting ready for the rerun in May 2015. I am in charge of the redesign of the MOOCs. Here is what we have been working on:

1. Listening to the evidence: During the first pilot of the MOOCs, we asked participants to use blogs as a way of documenting their learning. We noticed that most of them did not use this tool. We have modified our activities to make the use of blogs optional.

2. Obtaining participants’ feedback: We have added optional entry and exit surveys that will let us know more about participants’ background, motivation and expectations, and their perceptions on the MOOCs. Answers will be useful for research-based future improvements.

3: Facilitating time-management: Many learners struggle to balance their life and work commitments with their online studies. We are trying to help by adapting units in our MOOCs’ lessons so they can be completed in approximately 30 minutes each.

4. Increasing accessibility: We have increased the variety of formats in which we present the information, trying to provide a suitable option for learners with different needs. For example, we have included text alternatives to describe relevant images.

5. Clarifying attribution: We try to give credit to the people who created the open educational resources (OERs) we are using. We have clarified attributions where required. Images without an attribution belong to the public domain.

6. Making materials learner-friendly: MOOCs may attract participants with all sorts of educational backgrounds and skills. Finding the ‘right level’ is a challenge. What some participants might consider ‘too easy’ might be ‘too hard’ for others. We are trying to find the right balance. We have added new examples and explanations. We are aiming to make the courses easier to follow and more learner-friendly than before.

7. Fostering learners’ engagement: Most of the activities in our MOOCs follow the e-tivity framework described by Prof Gilly Salmon. This approach recommends the use of ‘sparks’, which are resources -such as images and videos- that generate interest in the topic of the activity. We have changed some of our sparks to make them more interesting, engaging and relevant than before.

8. Improving communication with learners: For the rerun in May we will increase  our participation in communication channels outside EMMA, such as Twitter. We have selected useful resources and questions that foster reflection, which we will share with participants throughout the delivery of the MOOCs.

I look forward to the following stages of these MOOCs!

What is an Open Online Course (OOC)?

Lately, I have been working with my colleague Gabi Witthaus on an open online course (OOC) on Storyboarding for Learning Design, which is starting on January 12, 2015. Gabi, who is a better blogger than I am, has been posting regular updates on the design process of the OOC. We are using CourseSites (a free version of Blackboard) as a platform. The plan is to release materials as Open Educational Resources (OERs) and/or Free Cultural Works (You can check out our storyboard for the OOC here. Please note it is work in progress. It is changing daily. You might even see it changing live!)

Last Saturday, Stephen Downes shared some criticism on our use of the term OOC, which has resulted in a very interesting discussion. Gabi replied (rather accidentally) via email and got an answer from Stephen. I think Stephen’s argument can be summarised as follows (his words):

In my view (and not everyone agrees with me) if you are requiring a login in order to access course materials, you are limiting openness:

– you are requiring that people give something (specifically, contact information) in order to access the material (there’s a reason Blackboard would want to force this)

– you are making it impossible for other sites to simply link to or embed the content you are sharing

– it is not accessible to search engines and aggregators

You might say that these aren’t very significant limitations. True enough. But my point is that they are limitations. You’ve created costs and barriers to the material. It is not open, at least, not open in what I would consider a meaningful sense of the word. Stuff behind userids and passwords has a very different status – a closed and presumptively private status.

Basically, Stephen argues that by having our OOC in a closed platform (like most current Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs), we are limiting openness and thus, our OOC is rather a simple OC (Online Course). In her new blog post, Gabi has expanded on our reasons to call our OOC an OOC. I am pretty sure she will publish a follow-up soon.  I would just like to emphasise the importance of agreeing on a definition of the terms we are discussing: What is an Open Online Course?


Openness is at the heart of this discussion, and I think we might be having a problem of definitions here. There are many ways of defining ‘open’. George Siemens (2013) provides a possibility by stating that MOOCs are open in terms of access, in the sense that ‘students can access the course content and participate in guest lectures without fees’ (p. 7). The Storyboarding for Learning Design course is free of cost. If we consider Siemens’s description of ‘open’, our OOC is an OOC.

Terry Anderson (2013) comments on six (!) different senses in which the concept of ‘open’ can be understood:

  1. Access students beyond geographic locations;
  2. Academic freedom and free speech;
  3. Learning content with no restrictions on adaptation and reuse (e.g., OERs);
  4. No knowledge or demographic prerequisites to enroll;
  5. Freedom to self-pace;
  6. No fees.

Terry concludes that ‘most MOOCs are open in the sense of allowing participation anywhere, to anyone and are open gratis for participation. However, they may or may not be open in the sense of allowing access to and revision of course content or in allowing and encouraging open communication of ideas and ideals. They also may or may not be open to allow continuous enrollment and student control of pacing’ (p. 2).

The Storyboard for Learning Design OOC is open in the sense that it allows participation anywhere (with an Internet connection), to anyone. People who do not want to register in CourseSites can have access to the materials and the storyboard of the course. However, they won’t be able to engage in the conversations. While discussions will be encouraged not only in CourseSites, but also in other platforms (e.g., Twitter, GoogleDocs, etc.), as far as I know all of these technologies require some sort of log in.


The term ‘online’ in this context refers to delivery happening via the Internet. Our OOC is definitely online.


A course is essentially a ‘coherent academic engagement with a defined set of learning outcomes’ (Youell, 2011, p. 4) . It usually has start and end dates. Our OOC is a course.

In summary, is our OOC an OOC? I would say ‘yes’. However, it all depends on the definition of the terms. If ‘open’ is considered as ‘not requiring a username and password’, then the course is not open, even if it is free, there are no prerequisites, materials are released under a CC licence, observers are welcome and dialogues are encouraged through different platforms. It is a matter of perspectives.


Anderson, T. (2013). Promise and/or Peril: MOOCs and Open and Distance Education. Athabasca University. Retrieved from:

Siemens, G. (2013). Massive Open Online Courses: Innovation in education? In R. McGreal, W. Kinuthia & S. Marshall (Eds.). Open Educational Resources: Innovation, Research and Practice. Vancouver, Canada: Commonwealth of Learning, Athabasca University (pp. 5-16).

Youell, A. (2011). What is a course or programme or route or pathway or learning Opportunity…?  London, UK: JISC, Higher Education Statistics Agency.