A new study on MOOC course design reveals that students prefer Facebook’s collaboration and interaction features to those of built-in MOOC communication tools.

Social media tools might be the key to keeping students engaged in MOOCs and preventing course dropouts, according to new research on MOOC course design that was presented at the annual ACM conference on Learning at Scale on April 26.

A study comparing students’ use of their MOOC course’s built-in message boards and forums to the same students’ use of course Facebook group revealed that students seemed more engaged in the Facebook groups. Students told researchers they preferred social media interaction to interacting with the MOOC communication tools.

Results of the study have implications for future MOOC course design, the researchers said in their paper, parts of which are available by registering for the Learning at Scale flipped conference online.

(Next page: About the MOOC course design study)

The MOOC Course Design Study’s Findings

Researchers examined an arts course, a qualitative course in creativity, and a quantitative course in programming, interviewing a total of 16 professors and students. They noted a vastly higher amount of collaboration within the Facebook groups related to the MOOCs than within the MOOCs themselves.

Students prefer Facebook, the researchers concluded, because they want a real community, want the convenience of something they connect to regularly, believe Facebook has better collaboration tools, and like the instructor/teaching assistant involvement on Facebook.

“In previous studies we found that the real challenge for MOOC developers and instructors is trying to keep students engaged and enrolled in the course,” said Saijing Zheng, a former doctoral student at Penn State and currently a research scientist at Microsoft, in a press release. “In this study, we are finding that social media tools may be one way to keep students engaged in a MOOC.”

Zheng also said around 90 percent of MOOC students who enroll in a course will leave it after two weeks.

The Facebook groups also offer the advantage of revealing students’ true identities, whereas students can make up different names when using MOOC message boards and forums.

Facebook also extends the conversation around course material happenings before and after the course is active, and students can connect with course instructors in various ways, according to the paper.

Zheng co-authored the paper with Mary Beth Rosson, associate dean of information sciences and technology and John M. Carroll, Distinguished Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, both of Penn State, and Kyungsik Han, research scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the press release notes.

Laura Ascione