How should we measure online learning activity?

  • Tim O'Riordan School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  • David E. Millard School of Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  • John Schulz Southampton Education School, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
Keywords: CMC, CSCL, content analysis, learning analytics, MOOCs, pedagogical frameworks


The proliferation of Web-based learning objects makes finding and evaluating resources a considerable hurdle for learners to overcome. While established learning analytics methods provide feedback that can aid learner evaluation of learning resources, the adequacy and reliability of these methods is questioned. Because engagement with online learning is different from other Web activity, it is important to establish pedagogically relevant measures that can aid the development of distinct, automated analysis systems. Content analysis is often used to examine online discussion in educational settings, but these instruments are rarely compared with each other which leads to uncertainty regarding their validity and reliability. In this study, participation in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) comment forums was evaluated using four different analytical approaches: the Digital Artefacts for Learning Engagement (DiAL-e) framework, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) and Community of Inquiry (CoI). Results from this study indicate that different approaches to measuring cognitive activity are closely correlated and are distinct from typical interaction measures. This suggests that computational approaches to pedagogical analysis may provide useful insights into learning processes.

Keywords: CMC; CSCL; content analysis; learning analytics; MOOCs; pedagogical frameworks

(Published: 29 July 2016)

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2016, 24: 30088 -


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How to Cite
O’Riordan T., Millard D. E., & Schulz J. (2016). How should we measure online learning activity?. Research in Learning Technology, 24.
Original Research Articles