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10 Most Cited Research Papers on MOOCs

To get an overview of the topics and trends in the research on MOOCs, Class Central has created a list of the most cited research papers on MOOCs.

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The research on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is at least as old as the introduction of the first MOOC. MOOCs and learning analytics gave researchers a unique opportunity to follow students closely on their learning path. This generated new findings on the learning habits of students, developed the knowledge on learning technology further and derived evidence-based recommendations for instructional designers. To get an overview of the topics and trends in the research on MOOCs I have created a list of the most cited research papers on MOOCs.


In a first attempt to have an overview of the most cited research papers in the field of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on Google Scholar, I combined the search results of relevant search terms (and their plurals) “MOOC” (about 262K results), “Massive Open Online Course” (about 37K), “Online education” (about 253K), “e-learning” (about 853K) in the following list. I have only included articles published since 2008. The short description under the title is extracted from the abstract of the articles.

Ten Most Cited MOOC Research Papers

Making Sense of MOOCs: Musings in a Maze of Myth, Paradox and Possibility (2012) by John Daniel
The paper describes the short history of MOOCs and sets them in the wider context of the evolution of educational technology and open/distance learning.

How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos (2014) by Philip J. Guo, Juho Kim, Rob Rubin
Videos are a widely-used kind of resource for online learning. This paper presents an empirical study of how video production decisions affect student engagement in online educational videos.

Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom Research into edX’s First MOOC (2013) by Lori Breslow, David E. Pritchard, Jennifer DeBoer, Glenda S. Stump, Andrew D. Ho, Daniel T. Seaton
The paper discusses the research that was conducted on the course analytics of edX’s first MOOC “Circuits and Electronics (6.002x)” and investigates the students’ level of success in the course.

Deconstructing disengagement: analyzing learner subpopulations in massive open online courses (2013) by René F. Kizilcec, Chris Piech, Emily Schneider
As MOOCs grow in popularity, the relatively low completion rates of learners has been a central criticism. This focus on completion rates, however, reflects a monolithic view of disengagement that does not allow MOOC designers to target interventions or develop adaptive course features for particular subpopulations of learners. To address this, the authors present a simple, scalable, and informative classification method that identifies a small number of longitudinal engagement trajectories in MOOCs.

Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses (2014) by Katy Jordan
This paper seeks to draw together the data that has found its way into the public domain in order to explore factors affecting enrolment and completion.

MOOCs and open education: Implications for higher education (2013) by Li Yuan, SJ Powell
This report sets out to help decision makers in higher education institutions gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and trends towards greater openness in higher education and to think about the implications for their institutions.

Instructional quality of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) (2015) by Anoush Margaryan, Manuela Bianco, Allison Littlejohn
The authors present an analysis of instructional design quality of 76 randomly selected Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

MOOCs and the funnel of participation (2013) by Doug Clow
This paper explores a number of characteristics of MOOCs, and introduces the metaphor of a ‘funnel of participation’ to reconceptualise the steep drop-off in activity, and the pattern of steeply unequal participation, which appear to be characteristic of MOOCs and similar learning environments.

The Ideals and Reality of Participating in a MOOC (2010) by Jenny Mackness, Sui Fai John Mak, Roy Williams
This paper explores the perspectives of some of the participants on their learning experiences in the course, in relation to the characteristics of connectivism outlined by Downes, i.e. autonomy, diversity, openness and connectedness/interactivity. The findings are based on an online survey which was emailed to all active participants and email interview data from self-selected interviewees.

MOOCs and the AI-Stanford Like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses (2012) by C. Osvaldo Rodriguez
In this paper the author studies in detail representative courses from AI and c MOOC formats. He establishes that although they share the use of distributed networks the format associated with c-MOOCs, which are defined by a participative pedagogical model, are unique and different from AI. He further assigns to the AI to a cognitive-behaviourist (with some small contribution of social constructivist) and MOOCs to connectivist pedagogy.

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Heba Ledwon

Heba was the Business Development and Partnerships Specialist at Class Central. She worked closely with businesses and universities to provide the most possible value for the Class Central community.

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