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Understanding Participant’s Behaviour in Massively Open Online Courses

  • Bruno Poellhuber Université de Montréal
  • Normand Roy Université de Montréal
  • Ibtihel Bouchoucha Université de Montréal
Keywords: Distance Education, MOOCs, Open Learning, participant profiles, survival analysis, behavioural engagement, cluster analysis


As the offer of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continues to grow around the world, a great deal of MOOC research has focused on their low success rates and used indicators that might be more appropriate for traditional degree-seeking students than for MOOC learners, who, because of the openness of MOOCs, represent a more diverse clientele who exhibit different characteristics and behaviours. In this study, conducted in a French MOOC that is part of the EDUlib initiative, we systematically classified MOOC user profiles based on their behaviour in the open-source learning management system (LMS) — in this case, Sakai — and studied their survival in the MOOC. After formatting the logs in ordinal variables in order to reflect a continuum of participation central to the behavioural engagement concept (Fredricks, Blumenfeld, & Paris, 2004), we incrementally executed a two-step cluster analysis procedure that led us to identify five different user profiles, after having manually excluded Ghots : Browser, Self-Assessor, Serious Reader, Active-Independent, and Active-Social. These five profiles differed both qualitatively and quantitatively on the continuum of engagement, and a significant proportion of the less active profiles did not drop out of the MOOC. Our results confirm the importance of social behaviours, as in recent typologies, but also point out a new Self-Assessor category. The implications of these profiles for MOOC design are discussed.

Author Biographies

Bruno Poellhuber, Université de Montréal

Associate Professor

Department of psychopedagogy and andragogy

Education Science Faculty


Normand Roy, Université de Montréal

Adjunct Professor

Department of psychopedagogy and andragogy

Education Science Facult

Ibtihel Bouchoucha, Université de Montréal
Research professional
How to Cite
Poellhuber, B., Roy, N., & Bouchoucha, I. (2019). Understanding Participant’s Behaviour in Massively Open Online Courses. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(1).
Research Articles