The Big Problem for MOOCs Visualized

mooc completionMOOCs — they’re getting a lot of hype, in part because they promise so much, and in part because you hear about students signing up for these courses in massive numbers. 60,000 signed up for Duke’s Introduction to Astronomy on Coursera. 28,500 registered for Introduction to Solid State Chemistry on edX. Impressive figures, to be sure. But then the shine comes off a little when you consider that 3.5% and 1.7% of students completed these courses respectively. That’s according to a Visualization of MOOC Completion Rates assembled by educational researcher Katy Jordan, using publicly available data. According to her research, MOOCs have generated 50,000 enrollments on average, with the typical completion rate hovering below 10%. Put it somewhere around 7.5%, or 3,700 completions per 50,000 enrollments. If you click the image above, you can see interactive data points for 27 courses.

If you’re a venture capitalist, you’re probably a little less wowed by 3,700 students taking a free course. And if you’re a university, you might be underwhelmed by these figures too, seeing that the average MOOC costs $15,000-$50,000 to produce, while professors typically invest 100 hours in building a MOOC, and another 8-10 hours per week teaching the massive course. And then don’t forget the wince-inducing contract terms offered by MOOC providers like edX – terms that make it hard to see how a university will recoup anything on their MOOCs in the coming years.

Right now, universities are producing MOOCs left and right, and it’s a great deal for you, the students. (See our list of 300 MOOCs.) But I’ve been around universities long enough to know one thing — they don’t shell out this much cash lightly. Nor do professors sink 100 hours into creating courses that don’t count toward their required teaching load. We’re in a honeymoon period, and, before it’s over, the raw number of students completing a course will need to go up — way up. Remember, the MOOC is free. But it’s the finishers who will pay for certificates and get placed into jobs for a fee. In short, it’s the finishers who will create the major revenue streams that MOOC creators and providers are currently relying on.

We have our own thoughts on what the MOOC providers need to do. But today we want to hear from those who started a MOOC and opted not to finish. In the comments section below, please tell us what kept you from reaching the end. You’ll get extra points for honesty!

via O’Reilly



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  • Manuel

    What kept me from reaching the end in some courses?

    The courses vary a lot in their quality. I start all courses that sound interesting, look at their material and then drop most of them until I’m down to the number of courses that I can realistically manage every week and then I drop more courses after noticing that I also have to sit in real university courses and that my plans were too optimistic.

  • Fran

    I started to take a MOOC about the Emancipation Proclamation. The resources provided were good. But many of the lectures were slow – I would have preferred to read that material. And the stuff for students to do was silly – fill in points on a timeline? Really? And the “discussion questions” were flat – “what do you think about this issue?”

    Not enough there to engage me.

    I’m taking another course, through Coursera, about ADHD. I’m at week 3. Interesting lectures, interesting readings, some quizzes that force me to pay attention. Discussions forums are a bit of a free-for-all, but very engaging. So far, I’m sticking with it.

  • Sumit Anand

    Two Reasons:

    I have realized that i get bored and sleepy watching online videos which is a case with many others

    The course content is often not as exciting as it seemed by the name of the course

  • http://www.melonlearning.com Theophan

    I have written a blog post on the topic only 2 weeks ago trying to pinpoint the problem. I think it’s very much the design of online courses that come short – http://blog.melonlearning.com/when-moocs-meet-design/

  • Tim

    I’ve started about 10 MOOCs and earned 2 certificates and almost have a 3rd. A couple of the classes I audited for information only.

    I’ve found that the forums are less than useful. I spend about 30 seconds weekly on the forums max.

    PPT and handouts are a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good.

    The quality of the lectures overall has been outstanding. I have a MS and 2 BS degrees from brick and mortars. I’d rate the lecturers in the MOOCs at the top of all the instruction.

    BTW, I LOVE Open Culture!

  • kareem zyd

    it is not easy to learn something very quickly and you can’t judge these courses on the statistical level because it is just a start to them, science has no end and that’s i must learn from the MOOC’s that are many and diverse, i also signed up for many courses because it is interesting to do that, but after one month, i realized that i must chose what keep me in cope with my study, which is engineering

  • Jeremy

    I’ve dropped 2 courses out of the 6 I’ve enrolled in. One of the courses I dropped had indicated no prerequisites, but required some pretty advanced mathematics knowledge; the second course I dropped simply required more effort than I was willing to put out during a busy period at work. I’ve finished 1 course, I’m past the half-way point in 2 others, and I have another about to start tomorrow.

    Generally, I count on the courses being interesting but not terribly difficult — I don’t expect to have to do much beyond watch the video lectures and read a couple hours per week. If I’m spending more than about 1.5 hours/day total, I need to back off and drop something.

  • http://leconfident.wordpress.com Nadathos

    This was to be expected.
    I have completed all of the online courses I’ve been interested in over the past year, albeit from a personal point of view. That means I’ve watched/read all the materials and tried to understand all the assignments, occasionally reading up additional content in my own books and other sources. What has kept me with 2 exceptions, from completing the course from the certificate viewpoint are other obligations. A doctoral thesis to be written for real credit that might allow me one day to earn a living in an academic setting.
    What I conclude from this is, that the certificates offered in this new way aren’t yet equivalent to those offered by regional, traditional institutions. Nobody will pay you more or let you jump on a class of next-gen greenhorn students, just because you’ve an online certificate in some introduction course.
    Another factor for me is the fact, that I don’t need a certificate to know things. If I can learn and if I can apply, that is enough for all free activities, like invention, commentary, writing or every sort of conclusion one might make from his/her knowledge. Most of the stuff I learn, I want to understand simply, which means that the additional hours in perfectionizing, studying for an exam, solving a pre-defined problem that might not interest me in my current situation in life, is not necessary or even a loss of time.

    Now with this background, it’s in everybody’s interest to keep these courses, also the non-certificate ones, live. But even without universities, the amount of high quality learning material goes up every hour. Universities, being a real-life, running institution who needs to maintain itself, must rethink their position in the social fabric. Would it suffice to charge a minimal price for these courses? 5Eur/$, 10 per person/year? /course? Charge other universities, when students are enrolled their, but still seek the additional knowledge?
    Charge for help, seminars, tutors, forums, while leaving the content itself free? Making the certificate really worthwile, for example, by giving credits and grades, not just a pass/fale statement? Or issuing certificates for a series of courses, like a whole branch of a science, or courses on specific, highly important and advanced topics?
    In this respect I might point out, that academic certificates are in general free for students under a certain age in some countries. What additional value does one really get from an online certificate, that would justify it’s price and the time spent on it?
    I can only hope that the now necessary decisions on this topic won’t be made in a too hasty, too readily negative sense. It would be easy to just cut this venture, calling it a loss and get on with the old-school business of sharing knowledge hidden by impressive walls and mental barriers. The other way involves some kind of revolution, where more people with more knowledge, won’t get equally wealthy just because of their knowledge, without a society wide change in perspective. Here, one might be forced to immagine, what effect it will have in the long run, when more people will be qualified to do, evaluate, ammend things, without being employed in the respective professions. This could enforce quality in every field, by force of qualified critique, but this is no necessary variable in economic calculation.
    One last point concerns the numbers: On a global scale, or even on a scale of people, who are sufficiently confident in using the english language, these numbers are not at all impressive. Not even the number of total participants. The free knowledge has not yet reached it’s potential audience. The notion of free distribution works with a sufficient amount of interested people/customers. Even on traditional universities, the number of people finishing with a higher degree might be something like 25% of the initial beginners. Lets guess that over time the number of people aiming for certificates will pin itself to the average, about 15%, everybody else gaining in a private fashion. Then you would need something around 350 000 people interested in your course.
    Where I live, the number of students in one city is more than 1% of the countries inhabitants. This means that this number is reasonable, even only in the US, let alone Europe and Asia, Africa and South America, where the large amount of winners in this game live. This opens the way to another two possibilities: some marketing to enlargen the number of interested people; and series of courses with large significants to many: how stuff works, essential skills in professions, and social advantages.
    I for one, will continue to soak up as much as possible, as long as it lasts.

  • http://readingtl.blogspot.com/ Crystal

    I started a great Digital Storytelling class and I was really enjoying it. I did all of the assignments for several weeks and was interacting with other students, Skyping with people in Japan and it was cool. But my life was too busy. If it was a class I was paying for and grades were an issue, I would have stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to continue, but since it wasn’t, I didn’t. I needed sleep more than finishing the course.

  • Val

    The format of the MOOCs needs to change. This is the Internet, it has so much potential, charts, videos, graphics. We should not try to just bring a brick and mortar lecture to your living room. Use the resources available and make the learning engaging with shorter segments and more than just a lecture. The goal should be to teach and teach better. If one of these online universities can figure that out then the money will follow.

  • http://OpenCulture Robert

    I have signed up for 7 courses, completed 5,unable to complete one due to computer problems and quit one because the math was too intense. All in all I have been very satisfied with the course content presented and would gladly pay a few dollars to sign up for other courses. I am 77 years old and do this for added knowledge.

  • http://davidwees.com David Wees

    The other issue that I have heard is that it is difficult to tell how much actual learning of new material has occurred. In one study I read, a major MOOC had a small number of people complete the course, but almost half of the people who completed it had already had at least some exposure to the material – and many of them had degrees in it! This makes these numbers seem even less impressive.

  • karen b.

    I’ve started and stopped four, completed one, and signed up for tons that I ended up running out of time to take. The one I completed (Intro to Genetics and Evolution) was my first MOOC and spoiled me for the others. I started an Astronomy course but had to drop it because it was going on at the same time as the math-heavy part of my Genetics course, and the combined amount of maths would have made my brain explode.

    Out of the other three I dropped: one was just horribly organized, material-wise, and the requirements were difficult to understand, and on top of that there were tons of errors because they put material on Google Drive and too many people were accessing it at once; one I dropped because the course content didn’t match my expectations, and it took up too much time for what it was; and one I almost finished but ended up having a busy couple of weeks at work so I wasn’t able to do the peer-graded assignment. I’m motivated by the certificate, so once that was taken off the table due to my 0 for the assignment, I decided to try to retake it later.

    I am very, very happy about being able to be so picky, and I am looking forward to getting back in the swing of them once I get a little more free time.

  • http://writingonhornby.blogspot.com Rachelle Chinnery

    I started two and quickly had to opt out as I’m also in the middle of doing a Masters. My hope from the courses was they would add to the course content I’m already taking. The MOOCs were too rich – a good thing. Just didn’t have time to do all the work. I hope they’re still running in 2 years when I finish this degree. Love the learning.

    The one point I would stress for MOOC success is that they get their technical issues sorted out more quickly than they currently are.

  • Jenn

    Sincerely, I wasn’t taking into account that I was already working and studying and went ahead and enrolled a World Music course, of course, shortly I saw myself so full of things to do that I neglected some work stuff… I’m not done I plan to enroll another course in the future when I finish my degree.

  • http://www.degreeoffreedom.com Jonathan

    I haven’t dropped anything yet, but I may have to for reasons of time since I’m juggling as many as 6-7 online courses simultaneously as part of an experiment to see if one can learn the equivalent of a BA degree in one year using only free learning tools.

    If I do decide to drop, it will likely be due to some of the time issues I’m discussing this week at http://www.degreeoffreedom.org.

  • don carleton

    The courses are just as boring and repetitive as going to a lecture hall on a campus somewhere in the wasteland of he middle west.

  • TJW

    3.5% if 60,000 is quite a lot of people completing classes. At least there are that many people interested in what’s going on with MOOCs.
    I have signed up for many MOOCs. I check them out, participate a little, then decide if I want to go further. I wlll drop if it’s a class that wasn’t what I expected, is going to take too much time (considering other classes I am in at the same time) although I may enroll again later. Sometimes I can’t afford the reading material, but I can still participate in the class by watching lectures, which is not even an option in a typical college class. I like that a lot.
    The freedom to pick and choose how I participate in a class takes a lot of stress off. And I’m not losing hundreds of dollars if I find I don’t have time to do some part of the course halfway through. I also like the fact that I can take on class at a time. In the typical college, you have to take several, of whatever is offered that semester, if you get financial aid.
    I prefer MOOCs to the classes I took in college for one major reason: My classes don’t drag on forever because of the ramblings of blowhard students that want to sound intelligent. It still goes on in large quantity, but I don’t have to sit through it. I just don’t participate in the forums.
    I love the MOOCs and the freedom that comes with them. I don’t see a downside. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate in them.

  • Karen Winding

    It’s a good question for Dan Ariely, who’s teaching “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality” on Coursera as we speak. People use hedonic calculus to evaluate the benefits, both before signing up and during the class. The pay-off decreases as the workload increases and it becomes difficult for most people to come up with a positive answer in the equation. These classes are not easy and are time-consuming – you must have your own clearly defined benefit to complete one. Those of us who do (I’ve completed 2 out of 2 and am actively taking 1 now) find the pleasure worth the pain because we highly value the result – even if the result is personal growth (valued highly by me).

  • Luis

    I started a course about Professional English in a platform for MOOCs in Spanish, Miridiax. The reason was that I discovered that the level of English was too basic for me, so I was wasting my time with that course.

    Besides, I am currently studying the course ‘The modern world: global History from 1760″. It is really great, but I am very delayed watching the videos and doing the quizzes, and I probably won’t get the final certificate. However, the certificate isn’t important for me, I am studying the course only for interest in the topic; so, even though I didn’t get the certificate, I will download all the videos, with the intention of watching them even when the course have finished.

    And I enrolled in two courses more in Coursera and then unenrolled before they started, because I understood that I wasn’t going to have enough time for them. Sometimes, there are amny interesting courses to study for free, and little time for all of them.

  • Paul

    Vincent Tinto, one of the leading experts on student persistence and retention, says that it is important to note that dropping out of college is really only a problem if the student considers it so. The same applies to MOOCs. People have all different reasons for signing up. People have all different goals. If they meet their goals without doing whatever it takes to finish a MOOC, that is hardly a problem.
    Most of the MOOCs I joined did not include any assessments. The ones that have quizzes and assessments, in my experience, mainly have them for the sake of having tests. If they don’t do anything for me as a learner, I’m not going to waste my time with them. In these cases, even if I participate actively and get everything I want out of the course, I will be considered one of the “failures.”

  • http://lukasblakk.com Lukas Blakk

    I’ve started many courses, signed up for things that looked interesting and have so far (in the past couple of years) completed only about 2 programs. One was the Web Apps course on Udacity and the other was the jQuery track on CodeAcademy.

    I found the Udacity web app course very well designed and easy to pick up and put down. I enjoyed the format of short learning modules, quizzes, and then doing an assignment on my own at some point in the week. The commitment to the class was only 7 weeks and that also worked for me.

    Now, here’s what doesn’t work (for me). I want to learn challenging material but I really have to be engaged for only 5-10 minutes per module. Otherwise I can’t commit to showing up and completing a module. I need to have a saved progress to see that I’m chipping away at a complete course. I like interactive, automated quiz/grading//coding but it has to work and not leave me stuck either unable to progress, or unable to have a module I completed (but for software error) left unmarked. It seems like there’s always a dearth of mid-level materials. That’s what the web aps course did well – it hit the sweet spot of taking what i already know and letting me build on it. Often programming courses are too easy and have no end results and then university courses involve too much time (hour+ long video lectures?!).

  • http://theory.cribchronicles.com Bon

    Echoing the few comments here that note that non-completion of MOOCs isn’t necessarily a problem. Not saying it’s not a problem or the fault of the MOOC in some cases, only that retention and completion are organization frameworks put around learning by institutions for management and credentialing purposes, not for learning’s sake.

    I have participated in about six MOOCs over the past three years. Mostly I do so out of interest. I’m a professional educator interested in online education, and in MOOCs themselves. I sign on to get a feel for the environment and how they operate, and to see the materials, and to engage and make contacts with people and explore ideas aloud with them, in conversation. Sometimes I do formal assignments, to push myself – often I don’t. Because that’s not why I’m there.

    In the original MOOCs, the prime goal was participation and knowledge generation rather than mastery of some predetermined set of ideas or outcomes. That has value in a society of lifelong learners. The idea that we all need to swallow and complete pre-packaged versions of learning in order to see MOOCs as valid or successful seems limiting to me, when they have the potential to offer so much more than just that conventional package.

  • RaFo

    Actually, I signed up for Duke’s Introduction to Astronomy :D, but I quit it because I was expecting more videos, photos of the space, but i didn’t found them. I dont say that the metodology was not good, maybe it was just me because I’m in others courses and I’m having good times there

  • H00

    I love the fact that these courses offer so much quality information AND they’re free. But as a full-time working adult, I found it exceedingly difficult to watch hours upon hours of lecture videos. At the time I was enrolled in Coursera courses, there wasn’t even an option to download videos to my iPhone so I could watch lectures during my commute. Reading the material or an interactive online interface such as the one you find on Code Academy would be a more efficient way to learn.

  • http://www.twitter.com/eebeejay Erin

    I’ve audited a few courses but never actually finished the requirements for any of them. I don’t see that as a problem at all. I learn some interesting things and get the benefit I want out of them. My thoughts:

    - I tend to overcommit. There are lots of courses that sound interesting but once they start I don’t have the time to complete all the course requirements. The 10 or 12 week timeline for a course works for university but it doesn’t work for real life. It’s totally possible that I and many other people would be better able to complete the requirements in, say, 20 weeks. I see no reason to hold people to such a limited schedule, or to force everyone to keep the same schedule at the same time.

    - Lots of classes have low/nonexistent entrance requirements and are created for a broad audience. In a few courses I have found that the lectures and course materials were too easy and not engaging enough. In some cases I felt that the workload and assignments required to pass the course were not high enough to be university level. That’s nice for making it accessible, but it doesn’t help me take the class seriously.

    - I find that the discussion forums aren’t very useful or engaging. They are not a very good substitute for active in-class discussion. And, because there are often no prerequisites for entering the course, it can be really hard to find people to engage with at the level that I’m at.

    - Lack of reward at the end. The courses are interesting and I often enjoy doing the reading and watching the lectures, but the courses don’t count for anything. I’m not going to get any sort of recognized credit either at work or a university so there is very little incentive to complete quizzes and assignments.

    That being said, I value the fact that these learning materials have been made available and I will continue to audit them. I learn a lot of stuff but it’s not important to me to finish all the requirements to pass them.

  • William showalter

    I work 9/12 hours a day and only do this as a hobby. I love the whole concept of moocs but like most people I want to do more than time allows I hope they will remain available in the future.

  • http://www.Twitter.com/QueenTRUthe Queen TRUthe

    My experience is as follows:

    I found out about the free courses approximately five years ago or so. Being that the world was experiencing the Critical North American Financial Meltdown in the U.S. I jumped at the opportunity to take courses at universities where I wouldn’t have dared to apply to as my institution of higher learning choice. And I enjoyed them all very much.

    I have taken all courses via http://www.OpenCulture.com

    The first few courses were courses at Yale, Harvard, Stanford & Cal. Berkeley. They were presented in lecture style shown via Youtube.com as self-paced modules.

    I took these courses quite fine as an independent study. For some of my courses i enjoy this as an option, however, it would have been nice to have the chance or the option to discuss the materials with other individuals being that i also enjoy working in groups and engaging in dialogue with others. I completed these courses without any credits or certificates offered.

    Over the years I have found that some classes via OpenCulture.com offer a certificate after the completion of the course work. I then began enrolling for these type of courses in addition to the others. I figured that I may as well receive something tangible in return for all the work completed. I appreciate the recognition as well as it offering me an opportunity to stay focused on my educational pursuits as well as my shifting & increasing career goals as I was then became more entrepreneurial minded.

    As for the courses that I didn’t ‘complete’ prior to the end date of the course itself. My experience was that I, for a few of the courses anyway, couldn’t figure out how to properly submit my completed assignments by the deadline. Some used Moodle and some used Drop Box and some used other tactics. However, it was never as simple as emailing the Professor or the T.A. In addition, typically for these courses the system only allows for one assignment late/missed for the duration of the course.

    Thus, being that I opted for those courses in particular, I then deemed it more imperative at the time not to continue in the course, but instead to work on other classes/projects, etc… for growth that would have something to show for it in the end. I would then decide to complete the courses, lectures and work assignments during a later time.

    Yes, perhaps changes can/should be made for the success of the programs/courses in the future, but I wouldn’t dare call it anything close to a failure or not worth it. Monetary gain should NOT be the first and primary concern for everything. There will always be enough to go around if not hoarded with selfish gain. And this wealth of richness [knowledge & information termed as an education] should definitely not be hoarded for selfish gain.

    Hotep! Blessings & Peace..
    -QueenTRUthe

  • Dom

    I’ve completed several MOOCs about 9-10, at least 1 from each of edX, Udacity and Coursera. I think that these drop out rates are being over emphasized. IMO they really should not be all that surprising considering that you don’t really get anything out of it except knowledge for yourself. I think a lot of people go into a course thinking “Yay I’m gonna learn about all these great things for free from the comfort of my home!” They then realize that the course actually requires hard work and time commitment and then drop off.

    As mentioned too the quality from one class to another can greatly differ, if for example there’s a class where the professor is just reading off the powerpoint slide, no matter how brilliant this person may be, I simply cannot pay attention, it’s too boring! Also quality of assignments and such differ greatly as well.

    Another problem is that there’s no structure to MOOCs at the moment. What I mean by this is that there’s no progression like you would have in a standard degree. I think what needs to happen is we need to make mini degrees so to speak that include X number of courses pertaining to Y and then that shows your proficient in Y. It would also increase motivation and give more purpose to the courses you’re taking.

    Another issue I see although slightly less obvious is for example in a coding class, it would be nice to be able to put your assignments up in github for prospective employers to see, but because of the honour code and such this is not possible.

    Lastly and this will only continue to improve but more interactive exercises are key, make the courses as interactive as possible. I think edX and Udacity in general do a better job than Coursera about this, but something that I get really confused about on edX is that they for the most part do standard lectures still which seems pretty backwards. I learn significantly more from the khan style than normal lectures. It doesn’t matter if the lectures are split up into chunks, the way your presenting the content is still boring at the core.

  • Erin

    I keep reading articles lamenting about the high drop out rate from MOOCs, but all of them seem to use the wrong criteria for what constitutes as a drop out in MOOCs.

    Many people sign up for such courses in order to “audit” – to follow some of the material but not all, dipping in & out as they please. Course instructors seem aware of this, even making reference to whether people are “certificate seekers” or not. I suspect that if there was an option to check how many of these “drop outs” simply had a different success criteria to what people are used to, people would be rather surprised. Maybe the option to check a box from the start saying they are not seeking the certificate would make it possible to ascertain the true “drop out” rate.

  • Betty Dahlstedt

    To my way of thinking the courses offered were for the purpose of learning!
    We want to learn…not collect certificates. The courses I dropped were ones where the lecturers were too silly, or the material was too advanced. The History since 1760 is a fantastic course. Certificates do not equal Learning. Only the student can decide if they learned anything from the course.

  • Tibetan Mom

    I recently enrolled in a composition mooc at Duke and a mooc on the ancient hero at Harvard. I do find the set-up a little less than user-friendly. I have to look in one place to figure out what to do that week, and then I have to find the materials in different locations. I’ve taken many smaller online courses, and usually, the schedule and materials were coordinated a little more carefully. “Don’t make me think.” I’ve taught online courses, too, and I do try to set up my courses in a way that students can navigate easily. I’m also a little overwhelmed by the numbers of fellow students and the idea that I might not get attention from my instructor. Finally, there is no grade, so I’m less motivated.

  • Sherm Pridham

    I am taking two MOOCS with Coursera. History of the World Since 1760 and Irrational Behavior. Completion of the course is not of any concern to me. I am old; I am interested in no holds barred learning; and I have three degrees (if I rearrange the initials of my degrees they spell out SLAM BAM, and that about sums up my academic career). I feel that our system of using grades and diplomas to determine how well informed, reflective, creative, or wicked smart we are is flawed. I do not see why monetizing these MOOCS should be a problem. The prestigious colleges and universities are very definitely ready to put a price tag on the use of their logos. They have already made deals with technology companies, foreign governments, sports networks, and others that are of dubious educational value, but return a buck to the academic institution. If, as the article above contends, a MOOC can cost as much as $50,000 to produce, and you have 50,000 students enroll, just charge ten bucks a head to sign up for the course, and you have $50,000 back. Once the course has been produced it would be of very negligible cost to re show it, even with some slight changes. Tell students that once they start a course they can opt to try to “qualify” for “real college credit.” If they want to get on the “for credit” track, it will cost $49.99 for one course, and if they complete the course with a grade of B or better they “qualify” to take the next four courses for $45.00 per course. Computers that can determine whether or not I am who I say I am, by the way I type a sentence, could be programmed to sort through multiple choice, or even essays, to check for key points, sentence structure, and contradictions. The computer could spit out the very good and the very bad submissions for review by real live academics, looking to make a couple of extra bucks as graders. And think of the sales of paraphernalia! Who wouldn’t purchase a T shirt with the official Stanford logo emblazoned with “I MOOCed Stanford”? Once the monetizing is decided, the colleges and universities could make a significant contribution toward raising the level of intellectual discourse by providing the courses absolutely free to those students who care about learning stuff; engaging in debate that is decided by how well you make your case instead of how long your Latin school motto is; and thoroughly investigating (perhaps even for a lifetime) the parts of a course they feel challenged by rather than “completing” a course. The important question is, “Do we want to see the MOOC movement lead to innovation and creativity in education or do we want to find a new way to raise cash through selling more credentials”?

  • http://888english.blogspot.com John Campbell

    I joined Designing and Implementing an Online Course through the Coursera site. From day one I had no idea what I was supposed to do. There were instructions all over the place. Groups to join with phantom members that never commented or interacted, and a syllabus that was being revised as the course went through it’s first week. I figured it wouldn’t be smart to learn how to design an online course from a teacher that designed such a confusing course.

  • Greg vP

    MOOCs are the wrong answer to the problem of increasing the availability of education.

    People learn best from a combination of individual tuition and small-group interaction. The quicker and more personalised the two-way flow of communication, the better. MOOCs get this exactly wrong.

    If you want to computerise higher education, the way ahead is to automate individual tuition. Eye tracking cameras and the machine learning technology behind IBM’s Watson are two of the building blocks needed for this. The required investment is still huge, but at least it’s starting to seem possible rather than science fictional.

  • Juliet Boys

    I have completed two courses, and signed up for a Biology course, but found I didn’t have enough background knowledge to follow the course properly, or enough free time to to do the research to keep up. If I had I would have learn’t so much and would have expanded my basic knowledge. I am enrolled in other courses and currently doing a Philosophy course. I am determind to finish regardless of the quiz pionts results. Simply becuase its so interesting and thought provoking. These courses are invaluable to me.

  • http://Www.creativityatwork.com Linda

    I signed up for 2 Mooc courses at Stanford last year and only finished one. I didn’t finish the 2nd course because the subject matter was too advanced for me and it would take too much time to drill down and learn enought to do the homework, so I opted to audit the course instead.

  • LWP

    Books and online material work better for me than lectures. I like that Yale provides lecture transcripts. A lecture that talks over slides, charts, videos, whatever, is annoying; html mixing transcripts with such items would be a great improvement.

    I haven’t enrolled, just viewed entire lecture series here and there, so I don’t know what the forum interaction would be like. However, I can imagine setting up something like Goodreads for discussion. Individual modules and/or lectures would be items that users could discuss — publicly, not hidden in private forums.

    In fact, I can imagine buying for a nominal price, let’s say, an introductory module based on comments I might have read by others who’ve taken the course. Then I might buy further individual modules, or the whole course.

    I probably wouldn’t pay for a test; let the professors offer them for free to get feedback on how good their material is. But also fix it so that if I pass enough tests and have paid for the course, I get official Brownie points.

  • Catherine

    I’ve completed most of them but dropped three.
    1. The course just wasn’t what I expected or wanted.
    2. My internet connection was too slow and shaky at that time to watch the videos properly.
    3. It required more free time for study than I had available.

  • Ellie

    Sometimes I follow a course for general interest so although I watch all the videos and do all the readings, I just don’t bother with the final exam because I’m not looking for a certificate or recognition or anything.

  • Brooke

    I left one because the course was theoretically free but the readings we were expected to do were all in an expensive book written by the professor.

  • Kati Saarinen

    Among the many possible reasons for people not completing MOOC’s is the cultural fetish we have made of “experts”. It was much more common at one time for the common man or woman to engage in learning and continue studies. An attitude of condescension from profs or teachers is quite discouraging. God bless the amateur who pursues his or her interests despite everything.

  • Rudolf Schmidt

    If Henry Ford had hitched horses to his automobiles it would have been no less absurd than the dozen or so MOOCs I’ve seen. All these academics have done is taken the obsolete and inefficient lecture format that hasn’t changed in a millennium and put it on the internet. Online can and must be so much more interactive than traditional classroom learning every could be. But that would require not only a significant investment of time and money, but a paradigm shift.

  • Karen

    My daughter has severe social anxiety but is brilliant. She began MOOCs and is completing them. She drops the ones that are less scientific (microeconomics was especially annoying to her) but she loves the interaction with people from other countries and she loves the lectures.
    I like the fact that she can sample classes and interests and see what she wants to do and how to start. Also, what she can realistically do.
    She is ambitious and appreciative of this opportunity. I know that I could never pay for her to go to brick and mortar and I would never allow her to go into some huge debt as she knocked around trying to figure out where her strengths lie.
    I guess you get out what you put in. The only non-scientific class she took was post-modernism and she loved reading Darwin and Baudelaire’s ‘Paris Spleen’.
    It’s a meritocratic system.
    I know that I signed up for several classes and didn’t complete any. I had surgery and ended up taking care of my mother. So I’m the kind of person who bring their numbers down.
    I think they are an amazing resource and even if she doesn’t finish with something that she believes she’s skilled enough to find work with (she is interested in data systems), then at least we know where her interests are focused if she does finally go to school. I would be more supportive if she had a solid background with some certification and credits from difficult subjects and had a plan. Then the student loan might be worth it. It’s too expensive to ‘find yourself’ at school anymore.

  • http://mechanteanemone.wordpress.com/ Sophie Lagacé

    Since the beginning of the year I have started five MOOCs and dropped two of these; I’ve finished two more and am half-way through the last. The two I dropped were extremely interesting and I would like to try them again, but they began just before I had house guests visiting for two weeks, which made it nearly impossible to keep up with assignments for that period. Since there was no grace period on deadlines, I had to drop.

    Four of the five classes were of very high quality; the fifth was interesting but too light-weight for my taste — so I’d bet it had a higher completion rate.

  • Julia

    I’m a retired English teacher and am near the end of a literature class with Coursera. I chose to stop doing the peer response section of the class due to some students being treated rudely in the process; in fact, the entire peer response section of the class is done in a way I would NEVER have asked of students in a classroom. No provision is made for plagiarism, and there is no involvement of the professor or TA’s in monitoring the TORRENT of complaints about peer reviews.

    I was not prepared to see such mean behavior in a supposedly “college” setting, but other in the class let me know that “trolling” is expected on the internet. That’s really a shame, because I truly enjoyed the forums, with most of us sharing ideas and information.

    As a retiree, a certificate isn’t a goal for me–and I do think others treat the MOOC as a giant smorgasbord, where students can sample what they like and leave when they wish. There’s nothing wrong with offering this type of enrichment, but the class was hardly at a “college” level. As one student said, it felt more like a book club, since the professor’s involvement was almost non-existent except for the videos.

    The MOOC community needs to decide what it wishes to be. Right now, there are no consequences for choosing to drop a course and no incentives for continuing. I’ve enjoyed some of those with whom I’ve interacted in the forums–but not enough to want to do this again.

  • William

    Hey guys!!!

    I am actually currently in the process of building an educational platform that is for students by students, and focuses on students taking control of their learning and helping eachother using many of the automative and social technologies we have today. It is great to read all of your comments so I know what to include in my design and features. Basically you will be able to upload your courses, whether MOOC’S or actual courses from universities (for credit) and use the applications design and features to have a streamlined learning experience like no other that actively engages the students in the information and eachother. My aim is to create an atmosphere that fosters a fun social educational environment between eachother that deals with you controlling the show and helping eachother to be the best and most efficient we can be. I want to actively engage classes and create an environment that is super friendly so that everyone is working together and having fun while learning, that is very crucial. I would love to get your guys feedback and what should be included on there for all of you to use!!! Afterall, I am doing this for you guys!!! Thanks!!!

  • Deepti Machavolu

    Hi, I am currently doing two courses from Coursera, one relating to literature, and another to writing. I have completed all the required assignments, so I would be one of those who completed the course.I have un-enrolled from another three before they started, because I am one of those who feels that if I do a course, it has to be done ‘fully’; I realised that I can do only so much at one time. A certificate would really not be of great use to me, I do these courses simply to increase my knowldedge. I started a fifth course on computational photography and unenrolled after a week because I felt that it wasn’t working for me.

    My school going son signed up for a course on gamification thinking that it would be something related to computer games. He was disappointed to know it was about applying game theory to business situations. But he decided to go on a little, and found it amazing and fascinating. This is what I love about MOOCs – they help a person identify where their interest lie. I would never have known of my son’s interest in this type of subject if it were not for a free online course that he can do in his free time at home.

  • http://Coursera Chad

    I’m the same as some other people on here: they’re free, so why not sample the first few lectures of MANY courses and see which ones click?

  • martin corona

    I have not doubt MOOCS are here to stay, I have finish 3 of them droped 2 because the day only has 24 hrs. When corporation start given recognition to mooc certificates…much more people will finish the courses. I am sure if traditional education were not given diplomas …the drop rate would be much bigger than it is.

  • Ed

    I think that this statistics is highly misleading. I pick two courses at a time that I want to complete and don’t have any problems in completing them.
    But I also enrol in couple of others just for fun, so I can see what they’re about, without any intention of completing them. I also enrol in some courses only in the end so I can download all the materials for self learning. All of that goes in statistics of “not completing” the course.
    In last 6 months I got 6 certificates all six that I wanted to complete and I enrolled in at least 20 more, just for the lectures or to see what the course was about.

    The average quality of courses, at least for technical courses, is really high, lectures are waaay better than on my university.
    I would also add that to learn something it’s not necessary to complete the course, for example I watched machine learning course from Stanford, about 3/4 of all the lectures, and learned a lot, it starts again in 10 days and this time I intend to do the assignments and get a certificate as well.

    Unfortunately, there are lot of people who just don’t want to do anything, who are just not interested enough to make an effort. There are also lot of people enrolling into courses ignoring the prerequisites, you just can’t do quantum physics without being really good at linear algebra and calculus.

    If I have any complaints it’s the lack of basic courses, for example Linear Algebra is prerequisite for many technical courses and yet there is no Linear Algebra course on Coursera or EdX.

    Judging from my friends, there are just people who are more excited about this way of learning, and those who want to try, but in the end just isn’t their priority. It’s important that everyone is given a chance to try, I’m afraid that this negative hype based on misunderstanding of statistics and human nature, could end a potentially most useful educational tool in human history.

  • Bul

    I am on track to complete 7 courses and I have dropped out of 2. I the problem for my dropping out was simply because of over subscription (I enroll in 10 courses and discover that they are all intense and then I have to drop a few.

    One criticism i’d like to answer is from those who are saying the material isn’t tough enough. I don’t know how tougher they want it to be or how update the courses should be but platforms such as coursera are pretty balanced.

    The only thing I think they need to put in mind is that the majority of their students are adults living busy lifestyles. If they really want to improve on the graduate rates, they simply have to treat this as continuing education. Increase due dates for assignments for lets say 2 weeks instead of one and upload lecturers on a biweekly basis.(that also accommodates late subscribers) That way, dropout rates due to failure to submit assignments on time can be reduced.

    I know I had an issue with one course I really like (signature track) but I was unable to submit an assignment…on contacting the instructor, he said his course is structured in such a way that the lowest 2 assignment grades are dropped so as to give late subscribers an opportunity to catch up. (and you thought they aren’t innovative)

  • MIa Valdes

    I’ve signed up for 4 courses on Coursera. I completed one and received a certificate–it was very challenging and I devoted much more time and effort than I had planned. It was auto-graded.
    I dropped one because it was boring and of low academic quality even though it was out of my area and I thought it would be too hard.
    I’m taking two courses at the moment. Both require frequent essays that are peer reviewed. That means that for every essay I write (very time consuming) I must correct 3 or 4 (a couple of hours more work to do a decent job).
    I realized I couldn’t devote the time so I quit doing assignments in one course but have continued to watch all the lectures and do the readings.
    In the other where I’m writing essays I have payed $40 for Signature Track (authenticates my identity when I turn in assignments) to put pressure on myself. It works. As much as I dread staying up till all hours struggling to convert my ideas into words and then grading other students’ work, that $40 is an enforcer.
    I am a teacher in the same field as the course that I payed for Signature Track and, although there’s no reward for me taking the course, who knows if it might be of value in the future? I’ll always have proof I passed.
    I’ve found the forums useful and entertaining. The diversity of the student body is amazing. There’s a lot of gratitude from students around the world for this opportunity. It’s inspiring. I have gotten help with problems quickly from other students. Yes, there are the occasional snarky or pompous ones but many more students are generous and supportive. I’ve seen the course staff intervenes sometimes when students have specific problems or queries.
    This format better for my learning style that the “real” classroom. I like being able to pause lectures, watch them over, download transcripts. I like the short lectures with embedded quiz questions that keep me alert. I have more interaction with classmates about the coursework than I did in college.
    It may not be perfect but it comes close. It’s free and most of the courses are of high quality. I’m taking as many as I can handle because it surely won’t last in this form.

  • Rozoua

    Dropping out of MOOCs happens when:

    1)despite its grand entrance (course title / course info / preliminary video) it turns out boring as hell.
    2) despite telling people “no prior knowledge required” you need prior knowledge in a field you don’t actually excel (but were interested in anyway) – Course then gets difficult / overwhelming
    3) course overload (demanding over 4 -6 hours weekly qualifies for a student not a working adult)
    4) forum rage (rare) / peer assessment rage (common) – unknown people grade your paper offering feedback like “you suck”. They hide behind a shroud of anonymity and you are left clueless.
    5) When you are browsing Mooc courses you click on a lot of them. Just because. Then again you decide to leave. Again just because.

    I have already concluded 5, doing 5 more and I am guessing they are here to stay, despite criticism. The hardest part is the beginning.

  • Scott

    I was one of the “Intro to Astronomy” dropouts. The course material was great, and I watched all the videos, but the quizzes were very, very poorly done. They were only partially related to the material covered in the videos, and were set up with questions that was more appropriate for a full graded, show your work, type of quiz.

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