List and abstracts of successful grantees

Details of Proposal
The Process
Details of call for submissions
Student experiences and outcomes
Learning Design
Cost, Performance Metrics and Learner Analytics
MOOCs: Policy and Systemic Impact
Alternative MOOC Formats

Project Overview

MOOC Research Initiative (MRI) is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of a set of investments intended to explore the potential of MOOCs to extend access to postsecondary credentials through more personalized, more affordable pathways. Grants will be made available in the range of $10,000 – $25,000. The grant is led and administered by Athabasca University. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports Athabasca University and interested academic institutions through research grants to examine the efficacy of early MOOC models for various learner audiences and in a wide variety of contexts.


June 5, 2013 Call announced
July 7, 2013 Initial short submission (2 pages max) Due
July 20, 2013 Notification of short-listed applications
August 20, 2013 Final submissions due
August 30, 2013 Final notification of successful grants

Successful grantees will be expected to present a preliminary report December 5-6, 2013 at the MOOC Conference, University of Texas, Arlington as well as submit a paper for peer review in IRRODL

Details of Proposal

  1. Proposal overview
  2. Literature and existing research that informs their proposal
  3. Context of research (MOOC taught, designed, university/organizational affiliation, MOOC provider, publisher)
  4. Research questions to be addressed by the project
  5. Data sources being considered for the project
  6. Methodology planned for research activities

Applicants with promising short proposals will be notified by July 20, 2013 on the next submission stage. The full proposal will follow the format of the short proposal but with additional detail in each category. The full proposal should be a max six pages (12 pt Times New Roman font). Full proposals are due August 20, 2013.

The Process

Each proposal will be reviewed by a minimum of three peer reviewers. The MRI Grant Steering Committee will provide oversight of the project.

Successful grants will be those that address:

  • Clearly detail research methods, techniques, and tools
  • Describe how data will be acquired for analysis, including sources, ethics clearance, tools used for data cleaning, and evaluation methods
  • Clearly articulate researcher’s existing research expertise and how it relates to MOOCs

In addition to monthly progress reports, successful grantees will be asked to present their research project at the MOOC Research Conference, December 5-6, 2013 at University of Texas, Arlington. Airfare and accommodation will be covered.

In early 2014, grantees will submit a project summary in the form of an academic article for publication in IRRODL (, an indexed, peer reviewed, open online journal.

Details of call for submissions

Given the lack of research to date regarding MOOCs, the research topics for this project are broad. This is not unusual in the development of a new field or area of research. An open and multi-topic call for submissions allows existing researchers to shape the area of inquiry and to reflect its current state.

Potential grant areas include:

Student experiences and outcomes

  • How can MOOCs help students succeed in remedial and introductory coursework?
  • What are the challenges, issues, and barriers to engaging less academically prepared and less self-motivated students in MOOC coursework? What are promising approaches?
  • Can MOOCs effectively customize/personalize the learning experience for students?
  • For which students, disciplines, types of learning and contexts are MOOCs more/less effective?
  • What perceptions about MOOCs exist among students, faculty, administrators, and state/regulatory leaders? How do these perceptions influence current and future opportunities for MOOCs to serve the higher education community and, in particular, low-income and disadvantaged young adult populations?

Learning Design

  • How can MOOCs improve other types of instruction, including blended learning, face to face and online instructional experiences for academically weak students?
  • What additional supports effectively help students and faculty succeed in MOOCs? What MOOC features support social and emotional factors for students?
  • Are some MOOC platforms more successful with academically less advanced students than others?
  • What MOOC models exist; which design components drive impact for non-self-directed learners and what additional wrap-around supports need to be added to online or blended approaches?
  • What institutional, pedagogical, learning design, technological, and business models are currently employed and which have the most potential to have a positive effect for our learner population?

Cost, Performance Metrics and Learner Analytics

  • What data captured from MOOCs are most informative, and how might such data be accessed and used for the advancement of learning?
  • What are the costs associated with the development, maintenance, instruction, and other MOOC operations?
  • What business models have are most effective for different types of institutions and MOOC platform providers?
  • Is there a realistic business model for MOOCs focused on remedial and introductory coursework?
  • What are appropriate metrics to assess the success of students in MOOC delivered introductory coursework?
  • How do MOOC dropout rates compare with other models of education (including, distance education, online learning, blended learning, and in-classroom learning)? What accounts for differences and what is the impact of those variances on learner motivation and success?

MOOCs: Policy and Systemic Impact

  • Which factors contributed to a university’s decision to offer a MOOC or join a MOOC provider?
  • What models for maintaining and improving MOOC quality exist?
  • Which criteria do universities employ to evaluate the impact, or define the value, of MOOCs?
  • Which department(s) within a university lead or drive MOOC initiatives? How are other stakeholders within the university included?
  • What are the prominent critiques of MOOCs and their potentially negative impact on the existing educational systems?

Alternative MOOC Formats

  • What models of MOOCs exist beyond large centralized providers?
  • How are existing technology providers (such as Learning Management Systems vendors and publishers) responding to MOOCs?
  • Do MOOC models that blend online with in-person learning influence success of low-income students?

Please contact for questions.