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HarvardX To Examine Personalized MOOC Experience

By Kristina D. Lorch, Contributing Writer

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s MOOC Research Initiative has granted HarvardX $21,450 to study how massive open online courses might be made more personalized for individuals in online courses everywhere, HarvardX announced Tuesday.

Led by Sergiy Nesterko, a HarvardX research fellow, and Svetlana I. Dotsenko ’10, founder of startup Project Lever, the study will take self-reported data from those enrolled in HarvardX classes, including country of origin, education level, gender, age, and usage of the course materials. The study will also look at individuals’ learning outcomes and goals.

“We want to...track how those goals manifest themselves in the students’ usage of courses, and ideally would see how those learning goals change over time and come up with a predictive system or a meaningful clustering of students,” Nesterko said in a phone interview.

The study will examine data from 17 HarvardX courses, five of which will have been completed before December 2013.

Selected from 266 original applications, this study is one of 28 projects that will receive funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s MOOC Research Initiative.

Nesterko said that through the study, he and and his team hope “create a recommendation system for students to help understand learning goals better.”

“We want to open ways for researchers to devise better delivery of learning content for students,” he said.

HarvardX courses and MOOCs in general see high attrition rates, many of which Nesterko said can be accounted for by different goals ranging from taking a course for credit to simply hoping to learn more about a particular topic.

“The study could open ways for HarvardX courses to change substantially [because] the delivery and the way it is structured may be more adapted to individual students,” Nesterko said.

Nesterko and Dotsenko said they will make their findings available to MOOC developers and hope the research will provide professors and curriculum development officials with the tools to tailor courses to a wider variety of students.

This article has been revised to reflect the following clarification:

CLARIFICATION: Oct. 24, 2013

Earlier versions of the headline and URL of this article stated that edX would study personalization in online learning. To clarify, HarvardX, the University’s subset of edX, will conduct the research.

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