You are here

Self-Directed Learning in MOOCs: A Disconnect Between Theory and Practice

Journal Name:

Publication Year:

Author NameUniversity of Author
Abstract (2. Language): 
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have grown exponentially in recent years. Since research in MOOCs is still an emerging field, investigating the application of adult learning theory principles within the MOOC paradigm is very much needed. Participants in MOOCs have a considerable flexibility to organize their learning; however, as adult learners, these participants do not effectively engage in self-directed learning in MOOC settings. This article is directed toward a twofold aim: to review the theoretical foundation of self-directed learning, and to provide framework for future designs of MOOCs to ensure the application of adult learning theory principles-notably self-directed learning. Lastly, this article proposes focusing future research on an emergent type of MOOC- called mini-MOOC- which can potentially provide a more realistic platform for the application of adult learning theory principles.



Admiraal, W., Huisman, B., & Pilli, O. (2015). Assessment in massive open online courses.
Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 13(4), 207-216.
Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2010). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The
International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(3), 80- 97.
Middle Eastern & African Journal of Educational Research, Issue 19
Year 2016
Bali, M. (2014). MOOC pedagogy: Gleaning good practice from existing MOOCs. MERLOT
Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10, 44– 56.
Bates, T. (2014). Comparing xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Philosophy and practice. Online Learning
and Distance Education Resources. Retrieved from
Bell, F. (2010). Connectivism: Its place in theory-informed research and innovation intechnologyenabled
learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 12(3),
Brookfield, S. (1984). Self-directed adult learning: A critical paradigm. Adult Education Quarterly,
35(2), 59-71.
Bulger, M., Bright, J., & Cobo, C. (2015). The real component of virtual learning: Motivation for
face-to-face MOOC meetings in developing and industrialised countries. Information,
Communication & Society, 18(10), 1200-1216.
Burd, E. L., Smith, S. P., & Reisman, S. (2014). Exploring business models for MOOCs in higher
education. Innovative Higher Education, 40(1), 37-49.
Cafarella, R. S. (2000). Goals of self-directed learning. In G. A. Straka (Ed.), Conceptions of selfdirected
learning: Theoretical and conceptual considerations (pp. 37-48). Berlin, Germany:
Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stupid?. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of
Education, 107(2), 89-94.
Carey, K. (2013). Obama, Rubio agree on one thing: Technology could fix the higher ed mess.
Retrieved from
Chyung, Y. S. (2007). Invisible motivation of online adult learners during contract learning. The
Journal of Educators Online, 4, 1–22.
Clardy, A. (2000). Learning on their own: Vocationally oriented self-directed learning projects.
Human Resource Development Quarterly, 11(2), 105- 125.
Daniel, J. (2012). Making sense of MOOCs: Musings in a maze of myth, paradox and possibility.
Journal of Interactive Media in Education JIME, 2012(3), 18-30.
Ebben, M., & Murphy, J. S. (2014). Unpacking MOOC scholarly discourse: a review of nascent
MOOC scholarship. Learning, Media and Technology, 39(3), 328-345.
EDUCAUSE (2012, December 20). What campus leaders need to know about MOOCs: An
EDUCAUSE executive briefing. Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE Publications.
Gillani, N., & Eynon, R. (2014). Communication patterns in massively open online courses. The
Internet and Higher Education, 23, 18-26.
Haavind, S., & Sistek-Chandler, C. (2015). The emergent role of the MOOC instructor: A
qualitative study of trends toward improving future practice. International Journal on ELearning,
14(3), 332-350.
Hrastinski, S. (2008). The potential of synchronous communication to enhance participation in
online discussions: A case study of two e-learning courses. Information & Management, 45(7),
Middle Eastern & African Journal of Educational Research, Issue 19
Year 2016
Hew, K. F., & Cheung, W. S. (2014). Students’ and instructors’ use of massive open online courses
(MOOCs): Motivations and challenges. Educational Research Review, 12(6), 45-58.
Hew, K. F. (2015). Student perceptions of peer versus instructor facilitation of asynchronous
online discussions: Further findings from three cases. Instructional Science, 43(1), 19-38.
Hu, H. (2013). MOOC migration. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 30(4), 10-11.
Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014
Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.
Kim, R., Olfman, L., Ryan, T., & Eryilmaz, E. (2014). Leveraging personalized system to improve
self-directed learning in online educational environments. Computers &Education, 70(3), 150-
Knowles, M. S. (1975). Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers. New York:
Association Free Press.
Knowles M. (1983). The modern practice of adult education: From pedagogy to andragogy. Cambridge:
Prentice Hall.
Kop, R., Fournier, H., & Mak, J. S. F. (2011). A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support
human beings? Participant support on massive open online courses. International Review of
Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(7), 74-93.
Lee, H. J. (2012). Rocky road: East Asian international students’ experience of adaption to critical
thinking way of learning at U.S. universities. In J. Buban & D. Ramdeholl (Eds.), Proceedings of
the 53rd Annual Adult Education Research Conference (pp. 395-397). Saratoga Springs, NY: SUNY
Empire State College.
Li, N., Verma, H., Skevi, A., Zufferey, G., Blom, J., & Dillenbourg, P. (2014). Watching MOOCs
together: Investigating co-located MOOC study groups. Distance Education, 35(2), 217-233.
Loya, A., Gopal, A., Shukla, I., Jermann, P., & Tormey, R. (2015). Conscientious behaviour
flexibility and learning in massive open on-line courses. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences,
191, 519-525.
Luo, H., Robinson, A. C., & Park, J.-Y. (2013). Peer grading in a MOOC: Reliability, validity, and
perceived effects. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(2), 1-14.
Margaryan, A., Bianco, M., & Littlejohn, A. (2015). Instructional quality of massive open online
courses (MOOCs). Computers & Education, 80, 77-83.
Merriam, S. B. (June 06, 2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of adult learning
theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 89, 3-14.
Merriam, S.B., & Bierema, L.L. (2014). Adult learning: Linking theory and practice. San Francisco,
CA: Jossey-Bass.
Moss, D. (2004). Creating space for learning: Conceptualizing women and higher education
through space and time. Gender and Education, 16(3), 283–302.
Parker, J. (2013). Examining adult learning assumptions and theories in technology infused
communities and professions. In V. Bryan, & V. Wang (Eds.), Technology use and research
approaches for community education and professional development (pp.53-65). Hershey, PA: IGI
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1-6. Siemens, G.
(2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional
Middle Eastern & African Journal of Educational Research, Issue 19
Year 2016
Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1). Retrieved from
Sonwalker, N. (2008). Adaptive individualization: The next generation of online education. On
the horizon, 16(1), 44-47.
Spector, J. M. (2014). Remarks on MOOCS and mini-MOOCS. Educational Technology Research and
Development, 62(3), 385-392.
Wang, V., & Farmer, L. (2008). Adult teaching methods in China and Bloom’s taxonomy.
International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(2), 1-13.
Woo, S. B. (2013). NUS first local varsity to offer free online courses. Today. Retrieved from
Yuan, L., & Powell, S. (2013). MOOCs and open education: Implications for higher education
(2013: WP01). Bolton, UK: JISC Centre for Educational Technology & Interoperability
Standards. Retrieved from http://
Zembylas, M. (2008). Adult learners’ emotions in online learning. Distance Education, 29(1), 71-87.
Zutshi, S., O'Hare, S., & Rodafinos, A. (2013). Experiences in MOOCs: The perspective of
students. American Journal of Distance Education, 27(4), 218-227.

Thank you for copying data from