Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) a Promising Option for Distance Learning

How effective are MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, in delivering course information to large groups of participants via the web?

If the evaluation of one course, Journalism for Social Change (J4SC), delivered via this method is any indication, then MOOCs may be successful at providing instruction to large numbers of students, although challenged in retaining student motivation and engagement. Still, it is an option worth considering.

RELATED: Read the evaluation details in “Journalism for Social Change: An analysis of the first Massive Open Online Course dedicated to the practice of solution-based journalism

CalSWEC Research and Evaluation Director Sandhya Rao Hermón and Distance Education Specialist Tim Wohltmann, along with Miranda Everitt and J4SC creator Daniel Heimpel, undertook the evaluation of the J4SC MOOC, which was developed first as a face-to-face course to teach graduate students how to use solution-based journalism to impact the U.S. child welfare system. Mr. Wohltmann also provided instructional design for the MOOC and technical support and consultation during the course, as well as for implementation of evaluation instruments.

Pilot Tested Among CalSWEC Schools
Previously, in January of this year, CalSWEC offered a pilot of the J4SC to 200 students and faculty in its consortium of social work schools. The course easily filled up, according to Mr. Wohltmann. However, he noted, similar to other MOOCs, “Our consortium members struggled to devote the time necessary to a course that didn’t offer any credit or reward, in balance with existing school, life  or work obligations.”

As far as the use of MOOCs for training, post-test surveys indicated that CalSWEC consortium members are interested in this as an option.

After the Pilot, Worldwide Participation
Following the pilot, the seven-week J4SC MOOC was offered worldwide on the edX learning platform. It was unique in several ways. It asked students to apply journalism skills to focus on and incite policy solutions to problems facing American children. It also offered the opportunity and incentive to students to have their final project—a solution-based article—published.

A total of 1,244 students completed the pre-course survey, and 72 completed the post-course survey. Among the evaluation findings:

  • As a result of taking J4SC, participants were more interested in changing public policy and more likely to believe that they could change public policy.
  • Post-course, more MOOC participants rated their expertise in child welfare, public policy, and journalism as intermediate and expert than they had pre-course.
  • Those who completed the post-course survey had significantly higher ratings of self-motivation and personal responsibility than indicated in the pre-course survey.

For more information

Sandhya Rao Hermón,, Director, Research and Evaluation