Who learns on MOOCs?
This is an important question, and though we know a lot more than we might have five or six years ago (Chuang and Ho, 2016) (Ferguson and Clow, 2015) (Henderikx, Kreijns and Kalz, 2018), there’s still plenty to learn. What is clear from even the slightest skim of the literature is that it’s probably inaccurate to speak of a ‘MOOC learner’ as though it were a single category: there’s just too much variation, both between types of learners and between types of courses (Jordan, 2015).
Dublin City University has been running the Fáilte ar Líne – Welcome Online Irish language short courses for over a year now on the FutureLearn platform, and from reviewing our own research, we’d have to agree. Our MOOCs are a blend of both the Irish language and broader Irish culture. On it, we’ve had learners from Malin to Mizen, but also from Mexico to Manila. Over a decade ago, Dr. Brian Ó Conchubhair , an Irish studies scholar, based in the University of Notre Dame in the United States wrote:
The global communication revolution allows Irish-speakers to participate in the virtual hyper Gaeltacht anywhere, any time which results in Irish being available, spoken, read and written twenty-four seven, worldwide. Regardless of the time zone, someone somewhere is downloading, updating, podcasting in Irish. The Irish-language communication network, rather than a local organic community, is now a global phenomenon which is no longer restricted to Irish-based and Irish-born. (2008: 238).
This global community is clearly evident on this series of courses, which is both incredibly exciting and belies stereotypes about who an Irish learner or speaker might typically be. Since the launch of our MOOC, over 40,000 learners have crossed this rubicon, and though many simply want to discover a little more about Ireland, others want to become fully-fluent speakers and have displayed remarkable commitment to this goal.
So who is a typical learner? Our experience shows that most of our learners are female, have at least an undergraduate degree, and are in their 50s or older. Many are retired, most are of Irish descent, but almost 85% live outside Ireland, and a broad array of wider experiences speaking and using the language are evident. The majority live in Britain or America, but over 20% are from a Non-English speaking country. Some of these aspects (high levels of education, strong experience in other learning contexts) support the general literature on MOOC participation, but others, such as age, speak to something that may be exciting or unusual.
We have been moved by the many who express disappointment that they never had an opportunity to learn the language, or that they didn’t consider the language important when they did. As noted by the late Séamus Heaney, not to learn Irish is “to cut oneself off from ways of being at home’. We see these courses as a way of connecting with this home, no matter where you live or what experience you’ve had with the language to this point.
If you would like to brush up on your Irish skills, or have a go with the language for the first time, register here!
There is an Irish speaker in everyone, so be sure to join thousands others in letting yours out!
Chuang, Isaac and Ho, Andrew. 2016. HarvardX and MITx: Four Years of Open Online Courses – Fall 2012 to Summer 2016. SSRN Available at – https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2889436
Ferguson, Rebecca and Clow, Doug. 2015. Examining engagement: Analysing learner subpopulations in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS). In 5th International Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, 16-20 March.
Henderikx, Maartje, Kreihns, Karel and Kalz, Marco. 2017. Refining success and dropout in massive open online courses based on the intention–behavior gap. Distance Education, Vol 38, No. 3. PP 353-368.
Jordan, Katy. 2015. Massive Open Online Courses completion rates revisited: Assessment, length and attrition. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Vol. 16, No. 3.
Ó Conchubhair, Brian. 2008. The global diaspora and the ‘new’ Irish. In Ó Ceanaigh, Seán and Nic Pháidín, Caolfhionn (Eds) ‘A new view of the Irish language. Baile Átha Cliath: Cois Life.