Lessons Learned from Teaching Multiple Massive Open Online Courses in Veterinary Education


  • Jill Rowan Deans MacKay, Dr R(D)SVS http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7134-4829
  • Jessie Paterson, Dr R(D)SVS
  • Victoria Sandilands, Dr SRUC
  • Natalie K Waran, Dr Eastern Institute of Technology
  • Bryony Lancaster, Ms R(D)SVS
  • Kirsty Hughes, Dr R(D)SVS




Distance education and telelearning, learning communities, lifelong learning, teaching/learning strategies


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a rapidly expanding avenue of diversification for higher education institutes. MOOC development is varied, individual course teams may have near complete creative control over the content, style, format and aims of their course, or be led by MOOC-specific teams within their institution. A single institute therefore may offer a wide variety of courses from short introductory level discussions to learning outcomes pitched at the postgraduate level. In this study, we examined the performance of four relatively long-running MOOCs offered by Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh: EdiVet Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Veterinarian; Animal Behaviour and Welfare; Chicken Behaviour and Welfare; and Equine Nutrition. Comparisons were made between the format and style of courses, their learning outcomes, and performance metrics such as completion rate, user satisfaction and benefit to institute. Retention was a challenge for all session-based MOOCs, with Chickens being most successful at retaining 50% of its potential audience until the start of Week 3. The average retention rate across all lectures and sessions was 38.5% (±14.08). All courses showed a notable female learner bias far above the Coursera average of 39% (Range Chickens: 58.1% ±3.1, Equine: 79.3% ¬±1.69). The majority of learners were North American or European (Range, Animals: 64.0±0.6, Equine 84.0%±3.0%). Across all courses, over 25% of learners had already achieved a Master’s degree or higher. A qualitative analysis of 188 learner stories revealed an overwhelmingly positive experience, highlighting the quality of resources, a perceived friendly relationship with the course instructors and referencing perceived barriers to education in face to face models. In conclusion, high quality digital resources embedded in well-designed courses can be a powerful tool to widen access to science education, however the MOOC platform does not necessarily reach a wide global audience, and may still struggle to widen participation in higher education, and alternative platforms are worth considering.

Author Biographies

Jill Rowan Deans MacKay, Dr, R(D)SVS

Jill MacKay  is a Research Fellow in Veterinary Medical Education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. Jill is interested in the evaluation of educational methodologies and student experiences in digital environments.

Jessie Paterson, Dr, R(D)SVS

Jessie Paterson is a lecturer in student learning at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. Her research interests include transitions into university, academic student support and peer support.

Victoria Sandilands, Dr, SRUC

Victoria Sandilands is a senior scientist in poultry behaviour and welfare at Scotland’s Rural College

Natalie K Waran, Dr, Eastern Institute of Technology

Natalie Waran is Executive Dean and Professor (One Welfare) at the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Health Science at Eastern Institute of Technology in New Zealand.

Bryony Lancaster, Ms, R(D)SVS

Bryony Lancaster is the programme manager for the distance learning MSc in Equine Science at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and a teaching fellow.

Kirsty Hughes, Dr, R(D)SVS

Kirsty Hughes is a research assistant in veterinary medical education at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.


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