Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Learning assessment in online higher education

The main interest of this project concerns learners’ perceived learning outcomes in massive open online courses and the factors related to their perceived learning outcomes.

2018 - 2022
Xiaomei Wei
China Scholarship Council - Leiden University Joint Scholarship Programme


  • X. Wei – PhD candidate
  • prof.dr. W.F. Admiraal – supervisor
  • prof.dr. N. Saab – co-supervisor

Research questions

  1. What learning outcomes are assessed in MOOCs? What instruments are employed to measure these learning outcomes? What assessment characteristics do these instruments have? 
  2. What motivates learners to participate in MOOCs? How are learners’ motivations related to perceived learning outcomes in MOOCs? 
  3. How do learners perceive the benefits and costs of learning in MOOCs? To what extent do the benefits and costs attribute to perceived learning outcomes?
  4. What factors are related to learners’ perceived learning outcomes in MOOCs?


The introduction of Massive open online courses (MOOCs) has changed the way in which higher education resources are delivered. MOOCs were originally oriented towards informal learning, the acceptance of MOOCs as part of formal campus education has been more recently addressed. MOOCs as campus-like courses have been realized in various practices ranging from undergraduate to graduate education. Learners participate in MOOCs as part of blended learning or fully online learning, as an obligatory or an optional course, as a non-credit or a credit course, and as complementary to or as a substitute for campus-based. Assessment of learning outcomes is not only for examining and stimulating learners’ learning in MOOC settings but also for aiding teachers to develop the curriculum and instruction. Taking perspectives from learners themselves to reflect what learning outcomes they have gained from online courses, which could provide us more insights to understand the learning that occurs in MOOCs. Thus, the current project focuses on evaluating the learning outcomes that learners perceive and the factors that they attribute to affect perceived learning outcomes.

Social relevance

Assessment of learning outcomes discloses what learning gains participants have obtained from MOOC learning. From the perspective of learner-centered, investigation on participants’ perceptions of learning outcomes could offer more aspects of how MOOCs shape their learning. Moreover, by further exploring what factors affect perceived learning outcomes, it will benefit educators to shape the curriculum and instruction in a way that is most beneficial for participants’ learning and teachers’ teaching in MOOCs.

Scientific relevance

With the integration of MOOCs into higher education, online learning assessment is one of the indispensable components. This project will extent empirical evidence of existing studies concerning perceived learning outcomes in MOOCs. Also, further exploration on factors related to perceived learning outcomes, which can reveal the deep mechanism that how variables drive participants’ perceived learning outcomes in MOOCs.

Material and methods

Participants who attend MOOCs delivered by Chinese Universities will be involved in this research. A mixed-method, for example, in-depth interviews and questionnaires, is the main methodology utilized for data collection. Both qualitative and quantitative approaches will be employed to analyze different data.

Wei, X., Saab, N., & Admiraal, W. (2021). Assessment of cognitive, behavioral, and affective learning outcomes in massive open online courses: A systematic literature review. Computers & Education, 163,104097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.104097.

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