Do tutors make a difference in online learning? A comparative study in two Open Online Courses

Richard Frederick Heller, Edward Chilolo, Jonny Elliott, Brian Johnson, David Lipman, Victoria Ononeze, Justin Richards


Two free fully online courses were offered by Peoples-uni on its Open Online Courses site, both as self-paced courses available any time and as courses run over four weeks with tutor-led discussions. We tested the hypothesis that there are no measurable differences in outcomes between the two delivery methods. Similar numbers attended both versions of each course; students came from multiple countries and backgrounds. Numbers of discussion forum posts were greater in tutor-led than self-paced courses. Measured outcomes of certificates of completion, quiz completion and marks gained were very similar and not statistically significantly different between the tutor-led and the self-paced versions of either course. In light of little discernible difference in outcome between self-paced learning compared with courses including tutor-led discussions, the utility of the time cost to tutors is in question. The findings may be relevant to others designing online courses, including MOOCs.


Open Online Courses, tutors, outcomes, student engagement, motivation, self-paced learning

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