18 de Freitas, Morgan, and Gibson “Will MOOCs transform learning and teaching in higher education? Engagement and course retention in online learning provision”


de Freitas, S. I., Morgan, J., & Gibson, D. (2015). Will MOOCs transform learning and teaching in higher education? Engagement and course retention in online learning provision. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(3), 455–471. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12268.


Sara Isabella de Freitas, John Morgan, and David Gibson’s article “Will MOOCs transform learning and teaching in higher education? Engagement and course retention in online learning provision” (2015) considered the low rate of completion, low rate of retention, quality concerns, and the need for engagement strategies within the MOOCs (Massive open online courses). The purpose of this article is to evoke change in MOOCs in relation to the use in higher education. The authors preformed a review of the current MOOC’s position and a case study of an MOOC class. De Freitas, Morgan, and Gibson propose new strategies for engaging MOOC learners to increase course retention. De Freitas, Morgan, and Gibson describes the differences between traditional and online learning, the aspects of retention and completion of learners in MOOCs.

Key points

  • In the United States, the need to up-skill has been brought by economic uncertainty and high unemployment which has resulted in a lifelong learning made available by advances in digital communications which the U.S. has become the trailblazer with demands growing for modularized and bite-sized online learning experiences from competitors.
  • Benefits for all ages of learners from all backgrounds that has an open equal access to education reaching one billion in the next decade at no cost through online learning and mobile learning with the availability of connectable broadband and the digital revolution of mobile and portable technologies.
  • Online versus traditional learning. There has been found that there is evidence “no significant difference”  between e-learning and traditional face-to-face learning courses.
  • With seven to ten percent completing MOOCs the dilemma of student retention and their learning remains. There is a high enrolment which means students are not committed, engaged or motivated with courses being fee and non-accredited.
  • Engendering greater engagement in online learning may be accomplished with social interactions. Gameplay and multimedia enriched content that is often peer-led with peer interactions.
  • New approaches to engage MOOC students has been researched to show the increasing credibility and support for using games as a learning tool for the hard to reach learners, motivation, and boost performance although retention has not been tested yet.
  • In the future, MOOCs have to be able to prove they can increase completion and retention rates, impact the high dropout rates, and keep learners engaged through gamification and tools to enliven learning experiences.

Case study

A case study of a MOOC course with four one-week modules. Theses modules were divided into 10 sections that consisted of a short video that was followed by a multiple-choice question. This occurred on a closed system to control student flow through the course and facilitate student interaction on a forum and engagement with a gamified platform that rewards students with a badge of achievement to share on social media. The final assessment for each module was five multiple-choice challenging questions and a final certificate. Course was designed for everyone and non-mathematical emphasized in the first video. The reviews were extremely positive; only 20-25% of the students dropped out. It was found that the retention was positively impacted by the complexity of assessments proving the importance of flow of learning; and gamified or game-based approaches need to be tested further for contributing to a higher retention rate.


With the growing number of learners of higher education it is important that we understand how to engage our learners on all different platforms including MOOCs with various delivery methods. This article asks an important question, “In terms of market share of higher education, will pure online MOOCs rise to threaten the effectiveness of the blended model?” (De Freitas, Morgan & Gibson, 2015, p. 468).  With the use of the 21st century technology skills this could be possible with the change from the curriculum focused teachings to a experience-centered focus of design.

  • MOOCs
    • Open access to materials
    • Video lectures, discussions
    • Social media support
  • Online
    • Stored materials
    • Video lectures
    • Learning activities (quizzes, games, etc)
    • Social media-support
    • Peer Reviews
  • Authors proposed Third model
    • Equal balance between
      • Video and audio material
      • Assignments, quizzes, and interactive media
      • Social interactions

MOOCs have the ability for learners of all types to have access to the best instructors and the best resources available. MOOCs are finding the balance between effective teaching and learner retention.

Discussion questions

  1. In regards to open access how can higher education be transformed?
  2. What are the engagement strategies discussed in this paper that are need for traditional and online learners to succeed?
  3. Why do only seven percent of the learners enrolled in MOOCS complete the course? 

Additional resources


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