Persistence, performance, and goal setting in massive open online courses

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Goal setting is an important component in successful teaching and learning, but relatively little is known about its impact on course persistence and achievement in massive open online courses. Using an experimental design and employing a variety of data including student writings, content-related assignment attempts, and quantitative achievement in the courses, we compared the outcomes of two groups of learners who were given different writing prompts at the beginning of their course. While no overall effects of writing prompt type on the dependent variables were observed, highly statistically significant differences were found when goal writings were more closely examined and compared via qualitative coding. When learners’ written responses to prompts contained either learning or performance goals, those participants both achieved more and engaged in learning longer than participants whose written responses did not fall into either of these categories. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Goals are related to students’ behaviors and performance. Performance goals’ influences on learning have inconsistent results, while learning goals are considered beneficial. What this paper adds The effects of conscious goal setting in massive open online courses (MOOCs) may be different from traditional learning contexts. Having either learning and performance goals results in better persistence and performance than not having these goals. Implications for practice and/or policy More interventions should be designed to help MOOC learners set and commit to their goals. Use MOOC learner's learning and performance goals to promote learning and persistence.






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Li, K, J Johnsen and DA Canelas (2021). Persistence, performance, and goal setting in massive open online courses. British Journal of Educational Technology, 52(3). pp. 1215–1229. 10.1111/bjet.13068 Retrieved from

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Dorian Canelas

Associate Professor of the Practice of Chemistry

Prof. Canelas has been active in implementation of student-centered pedagogies and developing programs to increase undergraduate retention in science tracks. Research interests include chemical education research and the scholarship of teaching and learning as well as macromolecules for industrial and biological applications, such as microelectronics, coatings, membranes, gene therapy delivery, and blood compatibility.

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