Session Behaviour in MOOCs

The importance and meaning of session behaviour in a massive open online course

Computers & Education, 2020.

keywords: Learner behaviour, Self-regulated learning (SRL), Massive open online course (MOOC), Learning analytics, Temporal analysis

Research team

Eduardo Oliveira

Paula de Barba

Donia Malekian

James Bailey

Tracii Ryan

Gregor Kennedy

Today I want to share with you a little bit about my research collaboration with Dr Paula de Barba (CSHE/Unimelb), Professor Gregor Kennedy (Unimelb), Professor James Bailey (CIS/Unimelb), Dr Donia Malekian (CIS/Unimelb) and Dr Tracii Ryan (CSHE/Unimelb).

In the last two years we have been investigating, through the use of learning analytics, learners' session behaviour patterns in a Massive Open Online Course. You may ask me: "why did you do this, Eduardo?"

Well... let me tell you then. I'm glad you asked me that ;)

One of the main challenges for online learners is knowing how to effectively manage their time. Highly autonomous settings, such as MOOCs, put additional pressure on learners in this regard. However, little is known about how learners organize their time in terms of sessions or blocks of time across a MOOC.

So, as part of our investigation, we examined session behavioural data of 9272 learners in a MOOC and its relation to their engagement, grade and self-report data measuring aspects of self-regulated learning. From an exploratory temporal approach using clustering and group comparison tests, we examined how learners distributed sessions in relation to their length and frequency across the course (macro aspect), and which types of activities they prioritised within these sessions (micro aspect). We then investigated if these patterns of sessions were related to learners' level of engagement, achievement and use of self-regulated learning (SRL) skills.

you: "hmmm, I see. That's interesting! What did you find?" (curious face)

me: "thank you very much for asking me that!"

We found that successful learners had more frequent and longer sessions across the course, mixed up activities within sessions, and changed the focus of activities within sessions across the course. In addition, session distribution was found to be a meaningful proxy for learners’ use of SRL skills related to time management and effort regulation. That is, learners with higher levels of time management and effort regulation had longer and more sessions across the course.

All the details from this incredible study (and analysis) are now available on Computers & Education and can be accessed here:

Let me know your thoughts about it. I'd love to hear from you.