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!

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!

Free online course on Storyboarding for Learning Design

Join our Open Online Course (OOC) on Storyboarding for Learning Design from 12 January to 20 February 2015. Start the year developing your skills! This OOC is free and open to all who design or teach courses in higher education/ professional training. Storyboards are at the heart of good learning design. Using online tools, you will develop a storyboard showing the alignment between your learning outcomes, assessment, learning activities and content. Gabi Witthaus and Brenda Padilla will be actively facilitating and giving feedback.

Click here to enrol.

Twitter hashtag: #sldooc (Include @twitthaus and @BrendaPadilla for a reply)