Understanding Learning and Learning Design in MOOCs: A Measurement-Based Interpretation


  • Sandra Kaye Milligan University of Melbourne
  • Patrick Griffin University of Melbourne




The paper describes empirical investigations of how participants in a MOOC learn, and the implications for MOOC design. A learner capability to generate higher order learning in MOOCs — called crowd-sourced learning (C-SL) capability — was defined from learning science literature. The capability comprised a complex yet interrelated array of attitudes, beliefs, and understandings about learning that participants bring to a MOOC and which shape their behaviour and explain why individuals differ in their ability to generate higher order learning. The capability was formulated as a developmental progression describing behaviours associated with five levels, from novice to expert, charting the degree to which learners regulate their own learning, effectively exploit the scale and diversity of MOOCs, and harness opportunities for distributed teaching. Item response theory was applied to log stream data in two MOOCs to construct empirically validated measures of this capability, enabling each MOOC learner to be assessed for learning capability on a scale from novice to expert. The majority of participants did not behave in ways conducive to the generation of higher order learning, but the C-SL progression suggested principles to guide MOOC design to make them more efficacious, which, when empirically investigated, were found to be efficacious.

Author Biographies

Sandra Kaye Milligan, University of Melbourne

Sandra Milligan is currently Convenor of a Melbourne University MOOC targeting professional learning and research engagement of teachers, and is researching assessment and certification in MOOCs in association with the Learning Analytics Research Group, the Science of Learning Research Centre and the Assessment Research Centre at Melbourne University.

Patrick Griffin, University of Melbourne

Professor Emeritus Patrick Griffin is an educationalist with research interests in the areas of assessment and evaluation. He held the Chair of Education (Assessment) at the University of Melbourne from 1996 to 2015 and was Director of the Assessment Research Centre.






How to Cite

Milligan, S. K., & Griffin, P. (2016). Understanding Learning and Learning Design in MOOCs: A Measurement-Based Interpretation. Journal of Learning Analytics, 3(2), 88-115. https://doi.org/10.18608/jla.2016.32.5



Special section: Learning Analytics for 21st Century Competencies