Findings from a Case Study on Refugees Using MOOCs to (Re)enter Higher Education

Gabi Witthaus


This paper presents a case study evaluating the online learning experience of ten refugees on MOOCs. Qualitative data were collected from the learners, generating a set of 43 statements depicting the learners’ experience of learning, which were analysed using an augmented Community of Inquiry (CoI) theoretical framework. The key findings show that learners particularly desired teaching presence in terms of facilitation and feedback on their progress; they viewed online social presence as being important but generally not well managed in MOOCs; and they expressed cognitive presence mainly in terms of the selection and use of information sources. Learning presence (the additional element of the “augmented” CoI framework) was described primarily in terms of the importance of goal-setting and planning. The implications for organisations supporting refugees and other learners in disadvantaged circumstances on MOOCs are discussed.


MOOCs, refugees, Community of Inquiry, developmental evaluation, Kiron

Full Text:



Akyol, Z., & Garrison, D. R. (2008). The development of a community of inquiry over time in an online course: Understanding the progression and integration of social, cognitive and teaching presence. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 12(3), 3–22.

Amemado, D., & Manca, S. (2017). Learning from decades of online distance education: MOOCs and the Community of Inquiry Framework. Journal of E-Learning and Knowledge Society, 13(2), 21–32.

Arbaugh, J. B., Cleveland-Innes, M., Diaz, S. R., Garrison, D. R., Ice, P., Richardson, J. C., & Swan, K. P. (2008). Developing a community of inquiry instrument: Testing a measure of the Community of Inquiry framework using a multi-institutional sample. Internet and Higher Education, 11(3–4), 133–136.

Archer, M. (2007). Making our way through the world: Human reflexivity and social mobility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aydin, C. H. (2017). Current status of the MOOC movement in the world and reaction of the Turkish higher education institutions. Open Praxis, 9(1), 1–27.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bossu, C., & Stagg, A. (2018). The potential role of Open Educational Practice policy in transforming Australian higher education. Open Praxis, 10(2), 145–157.

Bozkurt, A., Akgun-Ozbek, E., Yilmazel, S., Erdogdu, E., Ucar, H., Guler, E., … Aydin, C. H. (2015). Trends in distance education research: A content analysis of journals 2009-2013. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(1).

Bozkurt, A., Yazıcı, M., & Aydın, İ. E. (2018). Cultural diversity and its implications in online networked learning spaces. In Supporting multiculturalism in open and distance learning spaces (pp. 56–81). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Broadbent, J., & Poon, W. L. (2015). Self-regulated learning strategies & academic achievement in online higher education learning environments: A systematic review. Internet and Higher Education, 27, 1–13.

Carlsen, A., Holmberg, C., Neghina, C., & Owusu-Boampong, A. (2016). Closing the gap: Opportunities for distance education to benefit adult learners in higher education. Hamburg: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).

Cho, M.-H., Kim, Y., & Choi, D. (2017). The effect of self-regulated learning on college students’ perceptions of community of inquiry and affective outcomes in online learning. Internet and Higher Education, 34(February), 10–17.

Clark-Kazak, C. (2017). Ethical considerations: research with people in situations of forced migration. Refuge, 33(2), 11–17. Retrieved from

Cohen, A., & Holstein, S. (2018). Analysing successful massive open online courses using the community of inquiry model as perceived by students. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (January), 1–13.

Colucci, E., Muñoz, J. C., & Devaux, A. (2017). MOOCs and Free Digital Learning for the inclusion of migrants and refugees: A European policy study. In EMOOCS 2017 (pp. 96–103). Madrid.

Colucci, E., Smidt, H., Devaux, A., Vrasidas, C., Safarjalani, M., & Castaño Muñoz, J. (2017). Free Digital Learning opportunities for migrants and refugees: An analysis of current initiatives and recommendations for their further use. Luxemburg: Joint Research Centre, European Commission.

Crea, T.M. (2015). Higher education for refugees: Lessons from a 4-year pilot project. International Review of Education, 61(2), 229–239.

Dolan, J., Kain, K., Reilly, J., & Bansal, G. (2017). How do you build community and foster engagement in online courses? New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 151(Fall 2017), 45–60.

Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2018). Online educators’ recommendations for teaching online: Crowdsourcing in action. Open Praxis, 10(1), 79–89.

Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107–115.

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-Learning in the 21st Century (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Garrison, D. R., & Akyol, Z. (2015). Toward the development of a metacognition construct for communities of inquiry. Internet and Higher Education, 24, 66–71.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer. (1999). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.

Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M., & Fung, T. S. (2010). Exploring causal relationships among teaching, cognitive and social presence: Student perceptions of the community of inquiry framework. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1–2), 31–36.

Giddens, A. (1986). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Guest, G., Bunce, A., & Johnson, L. (2006). How many interviews are enough? An experiment with data saturation and variability. Family Health International, 18(1), 59–82.

Jaffer, T., Govender, S., & Brown, C. (2017). “The best part was the contact!”: Understanding postgraduate students’ experiences of wrapped MOOCs. Open Praxis, 9(2), 207–221.

Kovanović, V., Joksimović, S., Poquet, O., Hennis, T., Cukić, I., de Vries, P., … Gašević, D. (2018). Exploring Communities of Inquiry in Massive Open Online Courses. Computers & Education, 119(April), 44–58.

Kuo, Y.-C., Walker, A. E., Schroder, K. E. E., & Belland, B. R. (2014). Interaction, Internet self-efficacy, and self-regulated learning as predictors of student satisfaction in online education courses. The Internet and Higher Education, 20, 35–50.

Mackenzie, C., McDowell, C., & Pittaway, E. (2007). Beyond “do no harm”: The challenge of constructing ethical relationships in refugee research. Journal of Refugee Studies, 20(2), 299–319.

Moreira, J. A., Ferreira, A. G., & Almeida, A. C. (2013). Comparing communities of inquiry of Portuguese higher education students: one for all or one for each? Open Praxis, 5(2), 165–178.

Moser-Mercer, B. (2014). MOOCs in fragile contexts. In Proceedings of the European MOOC Stakeholder Summit 2014 (pp. 114–121). Lausanne: eLearning Papers, Open Education Europa.

Moser-Mercer, B., Hayba, E., & Goldsmith, J. (2016). Higher education spaces and protracted displacement: How learner-centered pedagogies and human-centered design can unleash refugee innovation. In 2016 UNESCO Chair Conference on Technologies for Development: from Innovation to Social Impact. Lausanne.

Murugesan, R., Nobes, A., & Wild, J. (2017). A MOOC approach for training researchers in developing countries. Open Praxis, 9(1), 45.

Nkuyubwatsi, B. (2014). Cultural translation in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). ELearning Papers, 37(March), 1–10.

Nti, K. (2015). Supporting access to open online courses for learners of developing countries. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(4), 156–171.

Oliver, D. G., Serovich, J. M., & Mason, T. L. (2005). Constraints and opportunities with interview transcription: Towards reflection in qualitative research. Social Forces, 84(2), 1273–1289.

Patton, M. Q. (2015). The developmental evaluation mindset. In M. Q. Patton, K. McKegg, & N. Wehipeihana (Eds.), Developmental evaluation exemplars: Principles in practice (Kindle, pp. 289–312). New York: The Guilford Press.

Pitt, R., de los Arcos, B., Farrow, R., & Weller, M. (2016). Open research. Milton Keynes: OER Hub.

Pool, J., Reitsma, G., & van den Berg, D. (2017). Revised Community of Inquiry framework: examining learning presence in a blended mode of delivery. Online Learning, 21(3), 153–165.

Rambe, P., & Moeti, M. (2017). Disrupting and democratising higher education provision or entrenching academic elitism: towards a model of MOOCs adoption at African universities. Educational Technology Research and Development, 65(3), 631–651.

Saunders, M. (2000). Beginning an evaluation with RUFDATA: Theorizing a practical approach to evaluation planning. Evaluation, 6(1), 7–21.

Saunders, M., Charlier, B., & Bonamy, J. (2005). Using evaluation to create ‘provisional stabilities’: Bridging innovation in higher education change processes. Evaluation, 11(1), 37–54.

Scriven, M. (1996). Types of evaluation and types of evaluator. Evaluation Practice, 17(2), 151–161.

Shea, P., Hayes, S., Uzuner Smith, S., Vickers, J., Bidjerano, T., Pickett, A., … Jian, S. (2012). Learning presence: Additional research on a new conceptual element within the community of inquiry (CoI) framework. Internet and Higher Education, 15(2), 89–95.

Shea, P., Hayes, S., Vickers, J., Gozza-Cohen, M., Uzuner, S., Mehta, R., … Rangan, P. (2010). A re-examination of the community of inquiry framework: Social network and content analysis. Internet and Higher Education, 13(1–2), 10–21.

Shea, P., Hayes, S., Uzuner-Smith, S., Gozza-Cohen, M., Vickers, J., & Bidjerano, T. (2014). Reconceptualizing the Community of Inquiry framework: An exploratory analysis. Internet and Higher Education, 23, 9–17.

Shen, D., Cho, M. H., Tsai, C. L., & Marra, R. (2013). Unpacking online learning experiences: Online learning self-efficacy and learning satisfaction. Internet and Higher Education, 19, 10–17.

Suter, R. & Rampelt, F. (2017). Digital Solutions for Alternative Routes Into Higher Education – Possibilities and Challenges of Digital Teaching and Learning Scenarios for Refugees: First Results From the Integral2 Project. In Proceedings of EDULEARN17 Conference 3rd-5th July 2017, Barcelona, Spain (pp.4640–4645).

Themelis, C. (2014). Synchronous video communication for distance education: the educators’ perspective. Open Praxis, 6(3), 245–256.

van de Oudeweetering, K., & Agirdag, O. (2018). MOOCS as accelerators of social mobility? A systematic review. Educational Technology & Society, 21(1), 1–11.

Witthaus, G. (2017, October 3). Using RUFDATA to plan an evaluation of open, online higher education for refugees and asylum seekers in Europe [Blog post]. Retrieved from


Zimmermann, B. J. (1999). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, M. Zeidner, & P. R. Pintrich (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (Vol. 16, pp. 1–5). Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.



  • There are currently no refbacks.