Peer Interaction in MOOCs for Professional Development

Donald A Huesman, University of Pennsylvania


Social learning theorists who study online learning have long proposed a positive role for peer interaction in helping online students achieve their learning goals. This dissertation explores whether there is a positive role for peer interaction when the scale of the online program is massive and the students globally dispersed, as is the case with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). This mixed methods study examines the question of whether peer interaction is correlated with positive learning outcomes, including retention, completion and assessment and explores the characteristics of peer interaction, looking for examples of a distributed instructional role. Quantitative methods are used to examine the relationship between peer interaction and course grades, course completion and persistence in module completion by those students who dropped out of course activity. A content analysis of the posts of the most influential peer discussants and data from surveys of these same participants are used to further examine the relationships between peer interaction and reports of professional advancement, and to look for evidence of the constructs of three prominent social learning theories, the Communities of Inquiry (CoI), Communities of Practice (CoP) and Connectivist frameworks. Findings show a small but statistically significant relationship between interaction and course grades, and a statistically significant relationship with completion of modules and course completion. No differences in outcomes were found between those who asked questions, those who provided answers, and those who both asked and answered questions. Support for all three social learning frameworks was found in the content analysis of peer to peer discussion board posts, with more frequent observation of indicators of the CoI framework, and less frequent observations of indicators of the CoP and Connectivist frameworks.

Subject Area

Pedagogy|Adult education

Recommended Citation

Huesman, Donald A, "Peer Interaction in MOOCs for Professional Development" (2019). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27540596.