Liminal Participants and Skilled Orienteers

The June issue of the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching included an article from Marion Waite, Jenny Mackness, George Roberts and Liz Lovegrove exploring triggers for learner participation in the First Steps into Learning and Teaching MOOC. 


This case study explored learner participation in First Steps in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT12), a short massive open online course (MOOC) aimed at introducing learning and teaching in higher education that was offered by Oxford Brookes University in June 2012. Both novice and experienced MOOC learners joined the course. The aim of the case study was to explore triggers for active participation. A mixed-methods approach was utilized in order to collect and analyze data from focus groups, individual interviews, participant blog posts, and a survey. The lenses of social constructivism, connectivism, and community of practice theories were used to enhance understanding of participation in FSLT12. Three main themes emerged: (1) Navigation: New participants felt overwhelmed by technical issues, multiple channels, and a perceived need to multitask, while experienced learners were judicious about planning their route; (2) Transformative learning: Ultimately, learners experienced a transformative shift, but it required reflection on practice, community support, and self-organization; (3) Reciprocal Relationships: New learners needed time to determine their audience and core community, as well as to realize mutual relationships within that community. Learners in a MOOC inhabit a liminal space. Active MOOC participants are skilled orienteers. Engaging local expertise of experienced MOOC learners and developing participatory skills in new learners is a key strategy for those who organize and facilitate MOOCs.

The First Steps course will be running again 27 Jan – 7 March 2014. See


About the author

Rhona Sharpe

Rhona is Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University. Her interests are around developing and tutoring online courses, developing learners for a digital age, and  pedagogic research. Rhona is one of the co-founders of ELESIG (Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group), a Senior Fellow of the Staff and Educational Development Association, a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a National Teaching Fellow. She is Editor of the Brookes eJournal for Learning and Teaching.

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