This case study examined instructional designers’ perceptions of opportunities for formal and informal learning in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) design. Cultural, historical, and technological influences interact within activity systems in which we teach and learn (Engeström, 2009a). Synthesis, analysis, and reflection upon findings resulted in answers to the central research question of how instructional designers perceive learners’ opportunities for boundary crossing between formal and informal learning within a specific MOOC design.
Thus, this research study was conceptualized to inform a deeper understanding of design considerations that may be able to support both formal and informal learning opportunities in MOOCs. The research, a case study using mixed methods procedures, was conducted over three phases: a survey (Phase I), focus group interviews using a semi-structured protocol allowing the research to build on survey results (Phase II), and individual interviews to build on both the results of the survey and focus groups (Phase III).
Findings identified key factors that influenced participants’ perceptions of opportunities for formal and informal learning, and boundary crossing within the MOOC design. The findings suggest participants perceived both formal and informal learning as activity systems. Designer-participant perceptions of the potential for boundary crossing between formal and informal activity systems identified tensions and contradictions in relation to the course structure and navigation, learning objectives (as known, unknown and unknowable), and designing for prescriptive and self-directed learning. Participants’ perceptions of opportunities for formal and informal learning, and boundary crossing within the MOOC design were influenced by prior formal instructional design experiences. The study surfaced implications for MOOC design that may support instructional design efforts for future MOOCs. A cultural, historical, and technological approach to design (Engeström, 2009a) may provide a framework to innovate, experiment, prototype, and analyze in order to augment e-learning -- particularly MOOC --success, create synergies between research and design activities, and intentionally factor informal learning integration into contemporary design and development.