Exploring the communication preferences of MOOC learners and the value of preference-based groups: Is grouping enough?

  • Qing Zhang
  • Kyle L. PeckEmail author
  • Adelina Hristova
  • Kathryn W. Jablokow
  • Vicki Hoffman
  • Eunsung Park
  • Rebecca Yvonne Bayeck
Development Article


Approximately 10 % of learners complete Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs); the absence of peer and professor support contributes to retention issues. MOOC leaders often form groups to supplement in-course forums and Q&A sessions, and students participating in groups find them valuable. Instructors want to assist in the formation of groups, creating multi-national collaborations, an asset possible in MOOCs that is generally sacrificed when students form their own groups. Little is known about how people from various cultures prefer to communicate with each other, or about the value of groups formed by MOOC leaders. To understand MOOC leaners’ grouping preferences, we administered a pre-course online survey to volunteers registered in the “Creativity, Innovation, and Change” MOOC offered by Penn State University via Coursera and assigned volunteers to groups based on their preferences. We also examined whether assigning learners to groups based on their preferences enhanced their performance or completion of the course. This paper reports MOOC learners’ preferences for different modes of online communication with group members (asynchronous text posts, synchronous text chats, or synchronous video and audio). Statistically significant relationships were found between learners’ preferred communication modes and their level of English proficiency, gender, level of education, and age. Although placing learners in groups based on their preferences and introducing them to each other did not improve course performance or completion, our findings on preferred communication modes, combined with more formal instruction of how to function as group members may prove to enhance learning and engagement in MOOCs.


Communication preferences Peer support MOOC Group learning Social learning 


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Qing Zhang
    • 1
  • Kyle L. Peck
    • 2
    Email author
  • Adelina Hristova
    • 3
  • Kathryn W. Jablokow
    • 4
  • Vicki Hoffman
    • 5
  • Eunsung Park
    • 6
  • Rebecca Yvonne Bayeck
    • 7
  1. 1.Penn State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  2. 2.Penn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Penn State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  4. 4.Penn State UniversityMalvernUSA
  5. 5.Penn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  6. 6.Penn State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  7. 7.Penn State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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