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Student Engagement in Aviation MOOCs: Identifying Subgroups and Their Differences

PI Jennifer Edwards

​The purpose of this study was to expand the current understanding of learner engagement in aviation-related Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) through cluster analysis. 

​MOOCs, regarded for their low- or no-cost educational content, often attract thousands of students who are free to engage with the provided content to the extent of their choosing. As online training for pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, and small unmanned aerial system operators continues to expand, understanding how learners engage in optional aviation-focused, online course material may help inform course design and instruction in the aviation industry. In this study, Moore’s theory of transactional distance, which posits psychological or communicative distance can impede learning and success, was used as a descriptive framework for analysis. Archived learning analytics datasets from two 2018 iterations of the same small unmanned aerial systems MOOC were cluster-analyzed (N = 1,032 and N = 4,037). The enrolled students included individuals worldwide; some were affiliated with the host institution, but most were not. The data sets were cluster analyzed separately to categorize participants into common subpopulations based on discussion post pages viewed and posts written, video pages viewed, and quiz grades. Subgroup differences were examined in days of activity and record of completion. Pre- and postcourse survey data provided additional variables for analysis of subgroup differences in demographics (age, geographic location, education level, employment in the aviation industry) and learning goals. Analysis of engagement variables revealed three significantly different subgroups for each MOOC. Engagement patterns were similar between MOOCs for the most and least engaged groups, but differences were noted in the middle groups; MOOC 1’s middle group had a broader interest in optional content (both in discussions and videos); whereas MOOC 2’s middle group had a narrower interest in optional discussions. Mandatory items (Mandatory Discussion or Quizzes) were the best predictors in classifying subgroups for both MOOCs. Significant associations were found between subgroups and education levels, days of activity, and total quiz scores. This study addressed two known problems: a lack of information on student engagement in aviation-related MOOCs, and more broadly, a growing imperative to examine learners who utilize MOOCs but do not complete them. This study served as an important first step for course developers and instructors who aim to meet the diverse needs of the aviation-education community.

Research Dates

to 06/09/2020


  • Jennifer Edwards
    Department of Management and Technology
    Ph.D., Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
    M.B.A., University of Massachusetts Amherst
    B.S., United States Military Academy
  • Mark A. Friend
    School of Graduate Studies (SGS)
    Ed.D., M.S., B.S., West Virginia University

Tags: Ph.D. in Aviation Program dissertation MOOCs learner engagement

Categories: Graduate