Types of participant behavior in a massive open online course

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In recent years there has been a proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs), which provide unprecedented opportunities for lifelong learning. Registrants approach these courses with a variety of motivations for participation. Characterizing the different types of participation in MOOCs is fundamental in order to be able to better evaluate the phenomenon and to support MOOCs developers and instructors in devising courses which are adapted for different learners' needs. Thus, the purpose of this study was to characterize the different types of participant behavior in a MOOC. Using a data mining methodology, 21,889 participants of a MOOC were classified into clusters, based on their activity in the main learning resources of the course: video lectures, discussion forums, and assessments. Thereafter, the participants in each cluster were characterized in regard to demographics, course participation, and course achievement characteristics. Seven types of participant behavior were identified: Tasters (64.8%), Downloaders (8.5%), Disengagers (11.5%), Offline Engagers (3.6%), Online Engagers (7.4%), Moderately Social Engagers (3.7%), and Social Engagers (0.6%). A significant number of 1,020 participants were found to be engaged in the course, but did not achieve a certificate. The types are discussed according to the established research questions. The results provide further evidence regarding the utilization of the flexibility, which is offered in MOOCs, by the participants according to their needs. Furthermore, this study supports the claim that MOOCs' impact should not be evaluated solely based on certification rates but rather based on learning behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInternational Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2017


  • Cluster analysis
  • Educational data mining
  • Massive open online course
  • Types of participant behavior


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