As I reflect upon my participation in this MOOC (#CFHE12) and the MOOC that just ended (#MOBIMOOC), it occurs to me that MOOC design could be informed by the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM). The TAM indicates that the two most important characteristics in voluntary technology adoption are ease-of-use and perceived usefulness (Davis et al, 1989). This can be expanded upon to hypothesize that: if a learner finds it easy to participate in the MOOC and the learner finds the content useful, then the learner is more likely remain a participant. So far, I have seen a lot of the MOOC design focus on the content of the MOOC, and perhaps the structure of the content, but has enough focus been given to the usability of the MOOC?
From my recent experience in MobiMOOC and now in CFHE12, I now see that usability of the MOOC has been my biggest barrier to participation, with usefulness coming in a close second.
For example, MobiMOOC began well. I found it easy to contribute to the Google Group, and I could easily follow what was happening in the groups on my iPad. However, in week 2, with the introduction of the tree structure and a different discussion platform, I quickly felt barriers being erected. It became harder and harder to find the time or energy to overcome the hurdles to participate. In week 3, this challenge became unsurmountable, I couldn’t find the active discussions as I didn’t have time to check each new group when I stole some time to MOOC. By the time I reached the end of week 3, I found myself checking in on eight discussion groups, most with very little actual content. I could easily see how someone who was participating peripherally wouldn’t be bothered to jump over these barriers every time they wanted to participate. With every extra click, I could see people not bothering.
In CFHE12, the first barrier to participation I encountered was the login challenges with D2L. When I found the time to make my introduction post, I couldn’t login. I almost gave up completely, but found myself drawn back into it later in the week after addressing my second barrier. The second barrier for me was learning how to use D2L on my iPad – the interface wasn’t obvious. This was also complicated by the login issue, as my initial attempts to use D2L were not successful. Once I figured it out (mostly anyways, I still don’t know how to mark discussion posts as “read”), I was able to contribute. I realized, that for me, the ability to MOOC from my iPad is critical! It means that I can MOOC when I’m doing other things (like eating or sitting at the airport waiting for my plane). When I’m in front of my computer I’m working. I can rarely spare the time to participate in the MOOC–This actually related to the perceived usefulness measure, as this time around, I didn’t find the content of MobiMOOC or this MOOC to be important enough to make it a priority–However, when I’m not at my computer, I’m free to do the things I “want” to do rather than the ones I “need” to do. This means that I am much more likely to participate in a MOOC from my iPad than I am on my computer.
The relationship between ease-of-use and perceived usefulness to MOOC participation levels is a hypothesis that I’d love to have the opportunity to test, but do not foresee the opportunity to do so in the next year or two. If any MOOC builders/designers out there want to collaborate, I’d be happy to help integrate the evaluation of such a hypothesis into your MOOC.