The importance of sessions in online learning

Members of the Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education have examined an important (but often overlooked) aspect of online learning: sessions. Sessions are periods of time that students dedicate to complete several tasks related to their course.

In the paper entitled “The importance and meaning of session behaviour in a MOOC” published at Computers & Education, they found that how students organise their sessions over time – in terms of their length, distribution and content – is related to their use of self-regulated learning skills and to their overall success in the course.

This suggests that thinking of how students will engage with courses in terms of sessions (for example, how can they break activities into smaller tasks?) is an important aspect for teachers and learning designers to consider when making decisions about the structure of their subjects.

More details about the paper below:

One of the main challenges for online learners is knowing how to effectively manage their time. Highly autonomous settings, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), put additional pressure on learners in this regard. However, little is known about how learners organise their time in terms of sessions or blocks of time across a MOOC. This study examined session behavioural data of 9272 learners in a MOOC and its relation to their engagement, grade and self-report data measuring aspects of self-regulated learning (SRL). From an exploratory temporal approach using clustering and group comparison tests, we examined how learners distributed sessions in relation to their length and frequency across the course (macro aspect), and which types of activities they prioritised within these sessions (micro aspect). We then investigated if these patterns of sessions were related to learners’ level of engagement, achievement and use of self-regulated learning (SRL) skills. We found that successful learners had more frequent and longer sessions across the course, mixed up activities within sessions, and changed the focus of activities within sessions across the course. In addition, session distribution was found to be a meaningful proxy for learners’ use of SRL skills related to time management and effort regulation. That is, learners with higher levels of time management and effort regulation had longer and more sessions across the course. Based on the results, implications for supporting specific session behaviours to promote effective learning in MOOCs are discussed.

• We used learning analytics to examine learners’ session behaviour patterns in a MOOC.
• We examined its relationship with engagement, achievement and self-regulated learning (SRL).
• Session distribution and activity were related to levels of engagement and achievement.
• Session distribution was found to be a meaningful proxy for learners’ use of SRL skills.
• Supporting specific session behaviours can potentially promote effective learning in MOOCs.

de Barba, P. G., Malekian, D., Oliveira, E. A., Bailey, J., Ryan, T., & Kennedy, G. (2020). The importance and meaning of session behaviour in a MOOC. Computers & Education, 146.