Supporting professional learning in a massive open online course

Colin Milligan, Allison Littlejohn

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    90 Citations (Scopus)
    136 Downloads (Pure)


    Professional learning, combining formal and on the job learning, is important for the development and maintenance of expertise in the modern workplace. To integrate formal and informal learning, professionals have to have good self-regulatory ability. Formal learning opportunities are opening up through massive open online courses (MOOCs), providing free and flexible access to formal education for millions of learners worldwide. MOOCs present a potentially useful mechanism for supporting and enabling professional learning, allowing opportunities to link formal and informal learning. However, there is limited understanding of their effectiveness as professional learning environments. Using self-regulated learning as a theoretical base, this study investigated the learning behaviours of health professionals within Fundamentals of Clinical Trials, a MOOC offered by edX. Thirty-five semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed to explore how the design of this MOOC supported professional learning to occur. The study highlights a mismatch between learning intentions and learning behaviour of professional learners in this course. While the learners are motivated to participate by specific role challenges, their learning effort is ultimately focused on completing course tasks and assignments. The study found little evidence of professional learners routinely relating the course content to their job role or work tasks, and little impact of the course on practice. This study adds to the overall understanding of learning in MOOCs and provides additional empirical data to a nascent research field. The findings provide an insight into how professional learning could be integrated with formal, online learning.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)197-213
    Number of pages17
    JournalInternational Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2014


    • MOOCs
    • self-regulated learning
    • massive open online courses
    • professional learning


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