Theory of change models deepen online learning evaluation

Olivia M. Chesniak, Denise Drane, Celine Young, Sarah Chobot Hokanson, Bennett B. Goldberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have gained traction as resources for professional development. This article presents the method that we used to evaluate a professional development MOOC for postdoctoral trainees that was created by a university consortium in the US. Most approaches to evaluating MOOCs focus on analysis of participation, outcomes from course assignments, self-reported learning outcomes, course completion and user pathways through the online content or clickstream data. Few published evaluations describe in detail how learning happens within online courses and the anticipated medium and longer term cognitive and behavioral outcomes on participants. This work aims to guide those who are designing, implementing and evaluating MOOCs through applying theories of change to focus evaluation on the process of learning. This approach can be used as a complement to traditional approaches for evaluating MOOCs. We described how we worked with the MOOC team building the content to develop a theory of change for each module (or lesson) within the MOOC and used the theory of change to guide evaluation of short and medium term participant cognitive, affective and attitudinal, and behavioral outcomes. Finally, we share lessons learned and suggestions for implementing theories of change in both the design and evaluation phases of MOOC development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101945
JournalEvaluation and Program Planning
StatePublished - Oct 2021


  • Evaluation
  • Massive open online course
  • Online learning
  • Professional development
  • Student outcomes
  • Theory of change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Strategy and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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