Personalised learning sets ScHARR's MOOCs in a league of their own

A unique 'personalised' approach to digital learning has proved to be the key to success for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at the University of Sheffield.

MOOCs are removing the barriers to education for people across the world, making it free and accessible to all. Despite revolutionising education and a huge surge in popularity, the courses on a national scale have generally had an extremely low completion rate, averaging just seven per cent.

However, academics at the University of Sheffield's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR), are helping to buck the national trend as more than 11 per cent of people studying Healthy Sustainable Diets completed the course – nearly double the national average.

MOOC Tablets

More than 1,400 people registered their initial interest in the course from 52 countries across the globe including Ethiopia, France and Brazil and of the 603 participants who started the course 67 eager learners reached completion.

Course leader Dr Angie Clonan, ScHARR Research Fellow, said the extremely high completion rate is due to a pioneering blend of two factors: the innovative introduction week and lively interactive webinars.

"We believe that two elements really contributed to making our courses a success. Firstly, in our introductory week we encouraged participants to introduce themselves and share their motivations for signing up to the course," said Dr Clonan.

"At this very early stage we made sure that all participants were welcomed individually by the course leader – this sets us apart from other MOOCs with traditionally low completion dates.

"Our second secret weapon was the live weekly webinars, which featured prominent guest speakers, and enabled participants to discuss matters, ask questions and share opinions in an open forum. Both of these elements 'personalised' the learning to some extent, and we believe this is what has impacted on our retention rates and the feedback we've had."

Puneet Sandu from India said she would encourage others to take part in online learning.
She said:"I would like to congratulate the University of Sheffield and all of the organisers for putting together such a well-planned and beautifully executed online course. I came to know about the MOOC through our daily newspaper's weekly supplement.

"When I checked the details on the website I had some initial apprehension as I have never taken a MOOC before. As the course started my apprehension faded. Everything was systematically arranged and one step led on to another which was terrific. I would really recommend the courses."

Following the huge success of the first course ScHARR went on to launch two MOOCs: Health Inequalities and Health Technology Assessment with the hope that further courses will be scheduled in 2014.

More than 1,400 people have already registered their interest in Health Technology Assessment (HTA) which introduces learners to what HTA is and the decision making process.

Luke Miller, Learning Technologist at ScHARR, said: "It is great that so many students enjoyed the diversity of learning activities offered on the MOOC, as these are a standard feature of our Masters in Public Health-Distance Learning (MPH-DL) course, and we are delighted to have had an increased interest and registration as a direct result of student experiences on the MOOCs.

"We really wanted participants who may not have been interested in further education to gain an insight into how accessible it can be, and we feel that the MOOCs have enabled this."

For more information visit about forthcoming MOOCS at the University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Health visit ScHARR MOOCs