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!

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)

Why do people drop out of MOOCs?

A couple of months ago I participated in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for the first time. I was intrigued about the MOOC movement. I only had a general idea: free courses, prestigious universities, thousands of students, access to anyone with an Internet connection… I wanted to know more about the learning design, the interactions between participants, the assessment processes, the challenges …

I signed up in Coursera and enrolled in a course on information and communication technologies in education. I had 18,000 fellow course mates. The course consisted on activities based on independent study and self-evaluation surveys. There were some synchronous sessions, which in practice were mere videos of the teachers. Interactions were fostered through a Twitter hashtag and a number of discussion forums.

My first impression was: Chaos. Instructions were not clear for everyone. Different resources had inconsistent information. There were lots of questions. Some people seemed to have no experience with communicating online. A thread about a technical problem could have a random post of someone introducing themselves (?!). This is not an issue with a small group of participants… but when you have a group of 18k… It is overwhelming…

I dropped out after a couple of days. I am not proud of it. I am part of the statistics, of those who failed to complete the course. However, I also think it was the best decision for me at the time. I had four main reasons to stop:

  1. I felt lost in a sea of chaos. The large number of students with different skill levels derived in an overwhelming amount of messages being sent without following a coherent structure. I could not keep up with that.
  2. Course content was not completely self-explanatory. Some instructions were confusing. Different resources had inconsistent information. The teachers could not answer all the questions. Again, I felt lost.
  3. It was a free course. Dropping out had no significant consequence.
  4. The time and effort needed to make sense of the MOOC seemed to exceed the expected benefits. For me, it was not worth it.

Are all MOOCs the same? Is it only a matter of enduring the beginning?  Maybe after a while it improves? I do not know, but I will soon start another MOOC. Hopefully I will obtain some answers.


Why do people drop out of MOOCs?

  • Overwhelming chaos
  • Unclear guidance
  • No losses or significant consequences
  • Efforts to succeed exceed expected benefits

What if…?

I recently attended a workshop on the use of comics to communicate research findings. Images can reach a wider audience and explain complex concepts in a simple way. Thinking about my work from such a different perspective helped me create the following comic (I barely know how to draw).

What if… we decided to get out of the box? What if… we used everyday technologies for learning purposes? What if… we moved away from online courses that look like content repositories and we designed collaborative activities? What if… we accepted the challenge of innovating? Education could be so different…

What if Comic

This comic is also available in Spanish.