The idea behind my research

We have an activity system (slide 1) and this is true for Scottish educational system, the international educational system and MOOC in general, but a combining factor is still not known. I would like to know how to combine these systems (slide 2). So We start with a hierarchy consistent. We have Scotland in one corner, the international system the other corner and MOOC, but they are still separated, and my system tries to bring them all together to create one common model(slide 3), and in order to bring them together we would have crossover points, we would have to identify what these crossover points are and how they are made up and we go back to the first slide. What I have to find is: what makes up the rule, the division of labours, and tools so we can form subject, object and a proper community.

I want to have an activity network build on the network of three subsystems:

  1. MOOC Educational system,
  2. Scottish Educational system,
  3. International students, I am aware of the differences of international students but for now I will just talk about the connection between the Scottish and the International.

 I want to find a combining system, which can include positive aspects of all three, and because they all come from the same source it makes sense to align them in activity system. Since they are still separated, my objective would be to find a common mode with crossover points.

By choosing an interpretivist paradigm, I will observe how participants from each activity system interpret their learning when they get involved in MOOCs, as participants have their own diverse histories, expectations, culture, educational background.

Activity systems may have contradictions within themselves. Such contradictions make participants question their own established pedagogy and expectations.

We would like to construct an alternative MOOC that does not exist yet and can be designed based on the tensions and richness which these activity systems bring together into the whole system (this would be my connective concept).

The object of constructing a new MOOC is to embrace a radically wider horizon of possibility of engaging more national and international students than in the previous mode of MOOCs. I am combining national and international students.




Internationalization of the UK universities by using MOOCs

What can the universities in the UK do to become more internationalized by using MOOCs?

  1. 1. Simple language
  2. 2. Courses should be tailored to international students.
  3. Fees charged (by universities) for certificates should be reasonable

Some of the issues that do not allow UK universities using MOOCs to become more internationalised?

  1. The main obstacles to implementing the above is invariably budget.

This raises one important question – how do UK universities benefit from enhanced internationalization?

  1. The issue of budget is linked to that of resources.

What resources are needed?

Do universities have sufficient resources?

Could UK university students contribute to alleviate any lack of resources?

  1. Another issue is that of marketing.

How can UK universities advertise their resources via MOOCs?

  1. There is not enough course designers and they also need assistants as many as they are.
  2. The facility of the universities are not enough to dedicate to the professor for designing the courses.
  3. The software is important, the designed test need strong/developed software in order to decrease to the least and support the probability of cheating in a time span, when different participants from all around the world come on the platform.
  4. Educational authorities/ government national program are encouraging domestic students to study the national curriculum rather than pursuing western universities.
  5. Language barriers. How can UK universities improve?
  6. Though studying abroad is highly valued by the majority of people, and it also increases the chance of their employability in their home country, unfortunately certificates achieved through MOOCs are not valued in some contexts.
  7. People feel more realistic when they actually attend universities and have to cover compulsory hours.


My own reflection on my experience of learning as a learner on MOOCs



Learners-according to their context in which they learn, individual learning styles and disposition ̶ display differences in learning strategy, though they may exhibit some common learning traits. These common traits may exist due to the assemblage, which forms networks of the following: materials design for language learning, curriculum development, publication and distribution in schools or language institutes all over the world. Learners also react to different kinds of activities in different ways.

Research Question and its application

The review literature from 2008 to 2012 suggests that “the possible cultural differences of participants in MOOCs and their MOOC experience” has a potential for a research in relation to cultural tension in MOOC.

1.What can the universities in the UK do to become more internationalized by using MOOCs?

1.2 How do the different cultural backgrounds and educational experiences of students affect their process of learning on MOOCs?

1.3 How can pedagogy be applied to the development of MOOCs to maximise their benefit to international students?

1.4 How does pedagogy need to be applied to MOOCs in order to meet the expectations of international students?

1.4.1 What pedagogies are used in MOOCs? ( I will say that based on my analysis these are the pedagogies that are used. Are these appropriate pedagogies / recommendations? What is the most beneficial?

The expectations students bring to the course are their assumptions about learning, school, on-line learning and so forth which they already have. I want to know student expectations and assumptions about education and take them into account when comparing with the pedagogy used on a particular MOOC and I want to know how to optimize that pedagogy for international students.Thus my research explores where the contradictions are, and do those contradictions lead to expansive learning.

I am making an argument that does not matter if participants miss out different aspects of something that have been designed for expansive learning but if each of them misses out something different then it makes an impact on overall opportunity for expansive learning. All of the features Engstrom describes as being characteristics of Expansive learning,  not every students need to engage with all of those steps. Does it matter? Are there particular features if they miss out, then actually it does not result in Expansive learning. 

1.5 How do online tools support educational experiences?

This research is trying to find a common pedagogy that international students feel more comfortable applying in the virtual environment of MOOC.

The significant contribution of this study

The research questions seek to make sense of a relatively new phenomenon and what UK universities can do to be part of it. It aims to contribute to understandings of MOOCs ̶ their design, delivery and impact ̶  as complex and dynamic systems operating on a global and multi-cultural level. Through these understandings, ways in which MOOCs can be enhanced in order to maximize participation and success in learning outcomes for all users can be revealed. It may contribute to design in terms of both IT and pedagogical approaches. It may also provide strategies for both educators and students involved in blended learning and operating in an internationalized context. The study will also have implications for higher education in the UK and beyond in planning for and envisioning their future provision.


A continuing professional development (CPD) course for people who are teaching English as a foreign language.

Futurelearn is a company owned by the Open University in partnership with 85 other universities and specialist organizations such as the British Council, the British Museum and the British Library (

One of the main criteria on which I made the decision to take up this course was the credibility and popularity of the British Council in ELT (English Language Teaching) in different local contexts.

This paper is my own reflection on my experience of learning as a learner on MOOCs and also systematically assesses what activities are possible or impossible on MOOCs and how interactions are possible.

I commenced this course, run by a specialist organization, which is the UK’s international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities, the British Council, on 25th of January. As I signed in, I was navigated to the week 1 entitled understanding learners. This week is divided into five main parts, the first and the last parts are introduction and revision. They are under the following topics:

  • Getting started
  • What motivates your learners?
  • Building rapport
  • Getting learners talking
  • Review

Each part is subdivided into steps (1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4……1.17).

This course is very international, as we see English teachers from different countries on the interactive map in step 1.2 ( At the beginning of each week participants receive an e-mail informing them about the content of the forthcoming week. xMOOCs mostly promote the assimilation of learning by presenting concepts through videos and textual learning resources which proceed by inviting participants to give reflective observation. It integrates some activities to allow participants active experimentation. This is in harmony with David A. Kolb’s model of experiential learning theory [1]. The social dimensions of learning and digital tools are, however, missing in this theory.


Usability of a MOOC is vital, as it increases participation and improves motivation of participants to proceed with the course.                                                                                             The navigation of the site is very user-friendly, based on my own experience as a participant, the content is well organized and presented in such a way that is quick and easy to find/navigate. Participants are able to see what they need to do for the course they are in, observe recent activity and comments on the course content, and track their progress. They can click the icon on the top right corner that leads to their personal navigation. They can see the list of all the courses they have signed up for. As there is not a lot of content on the main page, it is easy to scan the page and decide where to follow. The main menu is hidden from the course, so as not to distract participants, which makes the site seem less complicated. Participants can change the week by clicking “week number”. There is a pink arrow above the week that shows which week it is presenting now.

If participants have any enquiries they can easily click on the question icon that is at the bottom right-hand corner, type their question and their e-mail address and the team will promptly answer their query. However, this is not the case in Coursera, which is another MOOC platform, working with American universities and taking an American pedagogical approach. It seems that in American courses there is a little difference that can be linked to the culture of education. If participants want to contact Coursera, first they have to go to “learner Support Forums Guidelines”. At the end of this page there is an option asking whether this article was helpful or not. Participants must choose ‘no’ in order to have help centre article feedback, where they can type their questions. It seems that FutureLearn is more user-friendly.

In the on-line course it is not possible to undertake group work, but it is possible to do some in the forum and ask participants to bring ideas together. We do have a forum on Coursera, but on Futurelearn the comment threads after each step act as the forum. Futurelearn uses a more socio-constructivist pedagogy, based on the conversational framework  approach [2;3], as it values the social nature of knowledge by allowing participants to construct knowledge and new ideas through their dialogue and interaction in the comments thread after each step. Activities and dialogues for the purpose of learning are also designed in a context that develops critical thinking skills in learners. Furthermore, the educators have the role of guide rather than instructorThough the comments thread after each video gives the opportunity for interaction, there is potentially a high volume of comments for each week. According to table 1 (see    ) there would be 22,413 comments just for the first week, assuming that the course is still running. This may inhibit participants from getting involved in discussion. I would like to point out here that there is a cultural tension between some of the ideas in social-constructivism and my own Iranian culture, as teaching in an Iranian context is very didactive. Whenever something different is attempted by teachers (i.e. learner-centered activities) students have to comply with it. The teachers may try to make it work, but learners may be reluctant to embrace it and they assume that teachers should always do the talking. They also assume that students should digest the material and then regurgitate it in exams.

On this course, when teachers are talking about how they get to know their learners’ interests, needs, and preferences and trying to find out about what motivates them, how they learn, what method is appropriate for them; additionally, when teachers are learning how to teach or trying to enhance their skills, they are often explicit about the way they learnt and they teach. Thus opportunities to explore teachers’ pedagogical experiences on MOOCs can be found.

One of the teachers said that in her context (China) some students have already lost their interest because of the experience of taking too many exams before.

This question in the survey can show what approach students prefer:

Please rate from strongly dislike to strongly like how you would like to learn on FutureLearn.

By reading text

By watching videos

By reading comments posted by other learners

By discussing things online with other learners

By doing quizzes and getting feedback

There is also a global team of educators who answer participants’ questions and join in with their conversation. Participants can see educator profiles and follow them. In this way they would be able to see all the comments of their followers later on. Participants can also follow other participants by pressing follow button and in this way, they can filter the discussions to include the people they are most interested in. If one participant follows the other, and the other follows her back, they can learn together.

Participants are asked to introduce themselves in the first week.


There is no traditional (summative) assessment or test on this course. However, if they complete at least 50% of the steps in the course, they will be eligible to purchase a statement of participation costing £ 34+shipping. On this special course and several other courses on MOOCs, alternative assessment or portfolio assessment is being applied. Alternative assessment is for learner-centered instruction, when learners are in their ability, and on MOOCs participants cannot learn without being qualified in some skills, such as computer literacy and for some courses having fundamental information about the topic. It represents a way to directly evaluate learner’s skills and can be more motivating for students as it gives more opportunities for participants to show what they have learnt to others.

Mark as complete

Participants can track the completion of each step by clicking a pink button that turns blue and the next thing to do is highlighted in pink. It is very helpful when they want to start from the point, which they have left on another day. They can check their progress by clicking the progress button at the top of the page.

 1.1 Welcome Video

1.2 Where are you: Interestingly, there is an interactive map in this section where the participants type their location (city & country), there is only one other participant from Iran among the 2590 entries. It is assumed that where participants live has something to do with their culture they are immersed in, thus it will help them to explain the different paths they follow when they teach.

1.3 Keeping a reflective journal: Participants are introduced to a learning tool: reflective journals. They can keep a reflective journal of their learning and reflections on the course on PathBrite-an ePortfolio -where they can track and collect a lifetime learning and achievements record.

1.4 Live broadcast: The participants who missed Blabs can watch a recording of the Blab. They are informed about another live broadcast in week 4. They are introduced to some websites connected to the topics the educators discussed in the Blabs, so they have more materials to explore the topics after watching the recording. This is a long list of useful links with different topics, and each participant can explore the area, which she/he is more interested in or has more difficulty with in order to improve their teaching skills.

How to get most out of course:  The educators answer the questions participants post on the course. The comments from educators are embedded in the comments thread. It is not easy to identify which comments are those of educators and which are not. This does suggest they are almost hidden in the group, rather than being highlighted. This reflects the shift from teaching to learning in most western countries. Nevertheless, reflecting on my own educational experience – expecting to get feedback and support from an educator – it would be helpful if the educator’s comments stood out in the comments thread, since I feel that it gives a greater feeling of authenticity in a class when teachers and students are differentiated.  Even if the teacher is seen as a non-authoritative figure in the classroom, mostly responsible for leading and guiding the discussion, it would be useful to have his/her comments highlighted. That would help, for example, to make the structure of the discussion more clear while reading it. The participants can check the most liked comments in the discussion to get the most out of the course; practical suggestions are also frequently featured. Every week there will be a video which is the most interesting item with discussion and comments. In order to see all comments on a step, they can click the comment icon in the margin; the number next to the icon indicates how many comments are in the thread. Participants can join in the video to ask questions.

1.5 Understanding learners: There is a video of one of the educators giving a brief overview of what is going on the first week, and talking about the focus/topic of the week (understanding learners).What does it mean to understand learners?Before commencing the week a question has been posed to activate the schema of the participants. Participants are asked to think about this question:

What does it mean to understand learners?

1.6 Types of motivation: There is a video which talks about two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. It is followed by the two questions below. The answer to the first question may provide the educational experiences of the participants in learning a foreign language.

                      Think of a foreign language you have studied in the past: what motivated you to learn?

                      What motivates your learners to learn English?

1.7 Getting to know your learners: Teachers from different context in a video, talk about the techniques which they use in their class to get to know their students more. Then participants are asked to give comments on these two question:

                     Have you tried any of the techniques the teachers mentioned?

                     How do you get to know new classes/ learners quickly?

As I proceed through the course, I receive e-mails showing that other participants are following me on the course. This is a good motivation for being more collaborative and attentive.

1.8 Building rapport: There is a video of a teacher introducing her lesson topic to her   learners. This is an authentic example of real teacher in real classroom that give some hints to the participants. It is like the other steps followed up by questions:

How has the teacher built this lesson around her learners’ interests?

What rapport-building techniques does she use?

There is a note on classroom video mentioning that the teachers in the videos may also participate in the course.

1.9 Ways to build rapport: It suggests some useful approaches about how to create a good rapport with learners such as: Choose your attitude, use names, listen, avoid over-correcting and stand tall.

It is followed by this question

What do you think is the best way to build rapport?

1.10 Praise: This part is about praise as an ingredient of good rapport. A teacher is talking on a video, and her name is mentioned below the video, though it was not like this for the previous videos. So I could find her in comment thread and read her responses to participants and follow her.

1.11 Problems with speaking activities: This part is a about “Problems with speaking activities” that asks participants to share their experiences on the following questions. These questions raise their awareness to their approach to learning and their context.

What problems have you faced?

How have you overcome these problems?

1.12 Motivating learners to speak: This part includes a video about motivating learners to speak and a video viewing task.

1.13 Successful speaking activities: It gives some tips about what makes a speaking activity successful and also asks for participants’ own ideas. At the end, it introduces some speaking activities on the link.

5.1 Factors that influences learning: In this week, participants can pose their questions by joining the British Council’s teaching English Facebook clinic and the teaching English Twitter page, after which educators will answer them at a designated time on a designated date live. If, however, participants miss the live clinic, they can catch up later with a transcript of all the Facebook questions and answers. In this way the British Council can have more followers on Facebook and Twitter, and consequently can gain an even better reputation. In the clinic, there was almost synchronous communication.

Videos, Audio and Articles

xMOOCs give the input for assimilation or accommodation mostly by watching videos, reading articles or listening to audio. On some courses some of these steps are followed by short quizzes to help participants check their understanding. In these videos, we can see teachers from different contexts talking about the approaches which they apply and experiences in the classroom.  

MOOC is an opportunity for introducing associated authors on the subject of the course to participants. In this way participants are able to acquire more knowledge even after finishing the course.

Usage of social media 

Numbers of comments

The following table shows that either the number of comments decreases in the second week or as the course progresses and it is still on its second week, the participants could not have caught up with the pace of the course.

1.1 2031 2.1 908
1.2 3200 2.2 808
1.3 868 2.3 607
1.4 777 2.4 230
1.5 2143 2.5 208
1.6 1843 2.6 422
1.7 1497 2.7 424
1.8 1327 2.8 222
1.9 1294 2.9 160
1.10 1491 2.10 225
1.11 1805
1.12 860
1.13 830
1.14 981
1.15 380
1.16 779
1.17 307


Intentions of participants

A course that has international participation is important, as different kinds of motivation coming from different contexts. I found some interesting comments regarding to the participants’ intentions/motivations of taking part in the course. I summarised their motivation as following:

Some participants want to catch-up (stay up-to-date) with teaching, where they have left the profession for a period of time.

Another category of participants undertake this course to enhance their teaching skills. Such participants term these skills as methodology, techniques for, teaching English effectively, or professional development; they like to learn some working practices within English language teaching.

A further category is undertaking the course to start a new career as an English teacher.

Other participants, who are not a few in number, are undertaking the course to improve their English language skills. It seems that this course was not clear to establish its purpose in this regard, as it is for English teachers who should have fluency in this area.

Though the majority of participants are English teachers, some poor English was observed in their comments.


[1] Kolb, D.: Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development.Prentice Hall, New Jersey (1984)

[2] LAURILLARD, D., 2002. Rethinking University Teachinga Framework for the Effective Use of Learning Technologies RoutledgeFalmer, London.

[3] PASK, G., 1976. Conversation Theory: Applications in Education and Epistemology. Elsevier, Amsterdam and New York.



Cognitive-Behaviourist Pedagogy

The main behaviourist learning theorists are American psychologists Edward Watson, John Thorndike, and B.F. Skinner. Behaviourist theory focuses on the notion of learning as new behaviour or changes in behaviour as a result of an individual response to stimuli, thus it is assumed that reinforcement is the key feature of this theory. Behaviourist theory has a linear format with a clear learning outcome; however, capacities and attitudes are not considered in it. This is the reason for the rise of cognitive pedagogy.

BUT- does ‘behaviourism’ have a stigma attached to it nowadays? Some positive , but some limitations. The need for a nuanced approach- we need to identify the positive and incorporate that whilst being cautious of the inherent limitations. Also, usefulness will depend on learning goal.

The behaviourist model of distance learning was for a time when technology was limited because of the lack of communication, so the only available method was one to one. The absence of advanced technology meant that there was no widespread communication.

“Cognitivism often takes a computer information processing model” (Siemens, 2005). Cognitivism and behaviourism assume that learners are the processors of an external knowledge for the act of internalizing it, whereas in constructivism learners are active in their process of their learning.

Connectivism Theory

While cognitive behaviourism and social constructivism have been applied to digital education from a broader educational theory base, connectivism is a concept which emerged specifically as a response to the new technologically-rich environment itself. In 2004, George Siemens and his associate Stephen Downs, the founders of Connectivism theory argued that the traditional theories were for the time when today’s technology was not available, and these theories’ intention was that learning takes place inside people, as they developed the connectivism theory for addressing the fact that learning also takes place outside people and within organizations (learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). Siemens (2005) contentious claim places connectivism theory in the context of actor-network theory. Furthermore, Connectivism, according to Siemens, is “the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories” and includes some principles (see the appendix).

Carneiro (2010) agrees with Siemens in that these traditional theories are unable to incorporate the features of learning which are possible through a technology enhanced learning environment, however he criticized the concept of Connectivism. In his opinion, this theory excessively focuses on the individual. He proposes a new approach called “Generativism” and considers learning as a knowledge-generating activity.

Siemens in his book “Knowing Knowledge” (2006; 25) states that “learning is to come to know” which occurs in three phases: “a preparatory phase” (exploration, inquiry, decision making, selecting and deselecting)-learners by sharing viewpoints to explore ideas completely, will develop thorough knowledge of the topic-, “the actual learning phase” (acquisition of knowledge) and “evaluation and assessment”. According to Siemens (2006), learning is the process of creating an external network of nodes: nodes are entities which may be communities, people, organizations, databases or any other source of information.

The learning that happens in peoples’ heads is an internal network, which we learned and what we know comes from the connections formed between neurons in our brain. There are about 10 trillion connections between the neurons which make up everything we know, believe and imagine. Siemens (2006) believes that this type of connection can also be made through technology and he uses this metaphor to describe external learning. He theorizes that learners can access information in non-human (technology) devices to draw upon and share, not only human knowledge.

Connectivism has met some criticism for not being a theory for the digital era. It has much likeness to other theories, such as constructivism, cognitivism and behaviourism and some believe that learning cannot live in a non-human appliance. Verhagen (2006) states that connectivism has more pedagogical view than a learning theory, and Duke, Harper & Johnston (2013,p. 10) have the same opinion considering it as a “tool to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than a standalone learning theory”. By way of its similarities to other theories, if not considered a theory in its own right, we can regard connectivism as a hybrid theory that at least it provides an interesting perspective of learning in a digital age. Steffens (2015) acknowledges this regardless of the fact that many theories in the social sciences do not meet the rigorous criteria of a scientific theory.

Social-Constructivist Pedagogy

Constructivism is based on the idea that knowledge is constructed by individuals through his/her interaction with the environment and was largely developed by Piaget (1970). Thus, learners are active in processing information, which is in contrast to behaviourism as the learner may be considered to have a more passive role, receiving information and reproducing knowledge. However, there are some radical constructivists who believe in the absence of objectivity as each learner constructs his/her own knowledge and as a result grading should be eliminated (Rovai, 2004).

The constructivist model commonly applied today is in the category of social-constructivism pedagogy which is to be a blend of the theories of constructivism as well as those of socio-culturalism, coming from the work of Vygotsky (1978) and valuing the social nature of knowledge. Social constructivist theories [there are many kinds of social constructivism but all have more or less common themes, (Kanuka & Anderson, 1999)] are more theories of learning than theories of teaching, as the teacher has the role of a guide rather than an instructor. Vygotsky believed that the student-centered learning should be designed in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) with each student being exposed to the next stage of learning from instructors, peers or significant others.