MOOCs — 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!