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A more collaborative learning design is transforming Arabic MOOCs

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 20 February 2020

Eileen Kennedy and Mustafa Habib.

In February 2019 UCL ran its first Arabic MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) on the Edraak platform, which provides free online learning in Arabic. One year later, we are about to launch the second run of our flagship course for teachers, Transforming Education in Challenging Environments / Educators for Change.

Our aim for this MOOC was to scale up professional development for teachers working in challenging environments, particularly those affected by conflict and mass displacement.

Teachers in such contexts can be highly dedicated professionals, but they are in short supply and may have moved into teaching from other professions. Schoolteachers in the refugee camps in Lebanon, for example, have formerly been engineers, doctors, artists, builders – people from all walks of life.

But even experienced teachers need additional support to create transformative educational environments for often very vulnerable learners. In these circumstances, no-one is better placed to advise than other professionals struggling with – and overcoming – the same challenges. 

For this reason, we set out to create a collaborative, social learning environment in our MOOCs. The learning design used the Conversational Framework, developed by UCL Knowledge Lab Professor Diana Laurillard to guide our approach. The framework proposes that learning is optimised by using six different types of learning, through: discussion, inquiry, practice, production, collaboration and acquisition.

However, until now MOOCs have mostly focused only on one type of learning – video lectures (acquisition). Our MOOCs were different. There were no video lectures. Instead, we foregrounded the teachers themselves – they appeared as the expert interviewees in our videos – and we designed discussions and interactive, collaborative activities around these. Teachers were encouraged to share their ideas and learn from each other.

We had used this approach in other MOOCs we developed on the FutureLearn platform, such as Blended Learning Essentials. The design of the FutureLearn platform, with its focus on social learning, was inspired by the Conversational Framework in its development, so this helped a lot. This was not the case for Edraak, however, which made it much more challenging. Nevertheless, we stuck to our learning design principles, and used the tool we created at UCL Knowledge Lab, the Learning Designer to make sure we had accounted for all six learning types in our design. Then we used built-in or off-platform digital tools to implement the design in the platform. 

The results were staggering. We achieved an equivalent level of social learning (participants posting to the discussion) across both platforms. On Edraak, this meant that 1770 participants took part in the discussions, 22% of the total number of learners, posting 13,577 comments. In addition, we had 3,555 posts to Padlets (online pinboards where teachers were encouraged to share their ideas).

Our MOOC was a specialist teacher professional development course so was relatively small in Edraak terms – we had a mere 8,000 participants, whereas the most popular Edraak general interest MOOCs have attracted hundreds of thousands of learners, from across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Despite this, the combined number of discussion and Padlet posts made it the fifth most engaging Edraak MOOC of all time, out of over 130 courses they now run. Here are some comments from MOOC participants that testify to the sense of community that social learning can bring:

I love the discussion because it tells me the opinions of others, and it may introduce me to things I didn’t notice before

By discussing with other participants, I benefited a lot, I felt like I was living with those teachers

I learn about the conditions of others and learners, especially since we live in areas of conflict and instability, so I benefited a lot from the experiences of others

Our success has led to even bigger impact on Arabic MOOC design, however. Edraak –which is part of the work of the RELIEF Centre, which seeks to build a prosperous and inclusive future for communities affected by mass displacement – have always sought to innovate in online learning in the MENA region, and have decided to take our approach to learning design and embed it in the way they design all of their MOOCs.

Led by Mustafa Habib (co-writer of this blog post) – a graduate of the UCL Institute of Education MA in Education and Technology who helped develop the MOOCs for RELIEF – Edraak are developing an approach to learning design based on the Conversational Framework and have enthusiastically adopted the Learning Designer to help them do it. 

The re-run of Transforming Education in Challenging Environments runs until 15 March 2020 and is free and open to all. 

Sign up in English here and in Arabic here.


Eileen Kennedy is Senior Research Associate, UCL Knowledge Lab. Mustafa Habib, Learning Design Specialist, Edraak


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