Understanding learner participation at scale: How and why

Samaa Haniya, Luc Paquette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding learner participation is essential to any learning environment to enhance teaching and learning, especially in large scale digital spaces, such as massive open online courses. However, there is a lack of research to fully capture the dynamic nature of massive open online courses and the different ways learners participate in these emerging massive e-learning ecologies. To fill in the research gap, this paper attempted to investigate the relationship between how learners choose to participate in a massive open online course, their initial motivation for learning, and the barriers they faced throughout the course. This was achieved through a combination of data-driven clustering approaches—to identify patterns of learner participation—and qualitative analysis of survey data—to better understand the learners’ motivation and the barriers they faced during the course. Through this study we show how, within the context of a Coursera massive open online course offered by the University of Illinois, learners with varied patterns of participation (Advanced, Balanced, Early, Limited, and Delayed Participation) reported similar motivations and barriers, but described differences in how their participation was impacted by those factors. These findings are significant to gain insights about learners’ needs which in turn serve as the basis to innovate more adaptive and personalized learning experiences and thus advance learning in these large scale environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-252
Number of pages17
JournalE-Learning and Digital Media
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • barrier
  • clustering
  • learner participation
  • Massive open online courses
  • massive scale
  • motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Computer Science Applications

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