Students at the forefront of assessing quality of MOOCs


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are gradually recognised by the formal education providers who want to better respond to the needs of their learners. If developed keeping universal design in mind, they can be freely available to all students regardless of their background.


As for traditional learning, Quality Assurance (QA) processes should be commonly and genuinely defined for MOOCs provision. Merely using or providing MOOCs does not necessarily state the comprehensiveness, correspondence and authenticity of the course, shortly - there is no guarantee of the quality unless there are measures taken in this regard.

Many would ask how to achieve the objective of having quality online learning. That is where we start failing since quality is not an objective but a measure for a specific purpose (Hood & Littlejohn, 2016). The approach to the purpose of education varies between different stakeholders. A study ‘MOOC Quality and its’ use by different target groups’  developed within the Erasmus+ SCORE2020 project suggests that quality of MOOCs can be considered from at least the following four perspectives:


  1. Quality from the learners’ point of view.

  2. Quality connected to the pedagogical framework of the MOOC.

  3. Quality related to the input elements.

  4. Quality based on outcome measures.


Meanwhile we would develop the idea further and suggest that each of the above-mentioned perspectives consider learners’ point of view. For each aspect of quality, the perspective of learners/students may be from quite diverse viewpoint. One possible illustration of the diverse understanding of the meaning of a “quality” course or curriculum is the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) first published in 2005 and thoroughly revised in 2015. While the traditional contact study QA may be up to standard, the digital part of learning be it via MOOC or other Online Education Resources (OER) often escapes attention. The standards and guidelines used by higher education institutions to evaluate their courses might not be universally applicable to MOOCs and other Online Education Resources (OER), but a great many, such as Student Centred Learning (SCL) and on-going monitoring of courses are essential.


Frequently, when speaking about students’ engagement in QA, students are seen as a large and often homogenous group of respondents who provide their feedback at the end of a course. The same approach is usually applied to MOOCs. In this vision of QA, students are a passive group that provides its feedback only after having received their education. Thus, their own feedback will never affect their own study experience and furthermore, the students never get a good overview of how feedback affects the course they have already completed and will not engage in again. This approach is extremely harmful for MOOC QA, rather than for traditional learning for a simple reason that not every learner may complete the online course. In fact, often the learners who do not complete courses can have the most useful feedback - e.g. what held them back from completing the course and what can be improved?


Taking into consideration unique attributes and aspects that require distinctive stance, we can try to underline several phases for student engagement/involvement in QA of MOOCs:


  • Instructional designing of MOOCs,

  • Testing the MOOCs,

  • Distribution of the MOOCs among learners,

  • Completion of the MOOC by learner.


For each of these phases a thorough investigation is required on the possible measures for student engagement. Many questions arise depending on the purpose of MOOCs, e.g. are they used within a traditional learning environment as a part of curriculum with a special target group of students, or do they serve as a separate course with no defined learners’ group and with no need of a certain study/knowledge background?


The above-mentioned practical approach might be considered for assuring the quality, but if trying to find common guidelines and/or regulations for the MOOC QA, we might encounter different approaches. Various checklists and instruments are developed by researchers and within projects, but the policy level regulations do not seem to be fully comprehensive. Are the ESGs applicable for the QA of MOOCs or should there be new standards developed? Are the institutions or QA agencies equipped enough to exercise the accreditation for MOOCs? And is student engagement promoted enough for achieving the quality?


These and many other questions should undergo deep discussions at the policy level to secure that we do not create another bubble within the academic reality leading to a decrease in quality of education and do not restrict students’ significance in this process.




BizMOOC (2018). BizMOOC home page. Retrieved from:


EADTU (2016). “MOOC Quality and it’s use by different target groups” Retrieved from:


Hood, Nina & Littlejohn, Allison (2016). “Quality in MOOCs: Surveying the Terrain”. Commonwealth of Learning: British Columbia. Retrieved from:


Orsini-Jones, M., Conde Gafaro, B., & Altamimi, S. (2017). Integrating a MOOC into the postgraduate ELT curriculum: reflecting on students’ beliefs with a MOOC blend. In Q. Kan & S. Bax (Eds), Beyond the language classroom: researching MOOCs and other innovations (pp. 71-83). Retrieved from:


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