Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for professional development: meeting the needs and expectations of physical education teachers and youth sport coaches

Mark Griffiths, Vicky Goodyear, kathleen armour

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Background: Professional development (PD) in a range of occupations has become increasingly digitised. Numerous digital courses are available, with evidence that social media, blogs and apps are increasingly being used for PD. Yet despite clear benefits, there is little robust evidence on the characteristics of digital PD that impact positively on learning and practice, particularly for physical education (PE) teachers and youth sport coaches. This paper provides new insights into the characteristics of effective PD in the context of a complex digital landscape. 

Purpose: While advocated as an innovative genre from which to optimise learners’ proclivity for sharing, curiosity and discovery, little is known about how professional learners respond to massive open online courses (MOOCs) courses to inform their practice. The purpose of this study was to understand how participants responded to the learning design of two MOOCs (n = 13,104 from 155 countries) in the fields of physical education and youth sport coaching. 

Methods: Drawing from a mixed methodology, data were generated from semi-structured interviews (n = 27) and online survey methods (n = 66) with participants across both MOOCs. 

Findings: New data offer insights into the features of course design that practitioners found positive in promoting engagement. It was apparent in the data, for example, that four features were influential: establishing relevance, facilitating bridging, designing for personalisation, and building community. Constructed themes reflect how participants organised and negotiated MOOC experiences, and illuminate the ways in which they navigated and used course content. Evidence from this study provides insights into the ways in which digital genre for PD might be structured to facilitate engagement and presents broader challenges to the ways in which pedagogy is conceptualised and practiced online. 

Conclusions: The refined focus on digital genre as a form of social action in this study seeks to ensure that learners needs can be met in a complex and ever-changing PD digital landscape. In this regard, a more nuanced approach is required that helps explicate the cognitive tools that participants engage as they organise their learning experiences on digital platforms, and how this aligns with their expectations and needs of online PD.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Early online date24 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Jan 2021


  • MOOCs
  • digital learning
  • genre
  • learning design
  • professional development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Education
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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