MOOC Interrupted: Top 10 Reasons Our Readers Didn’t Finish a Massive Open Online Course

mooc completion

On Tues­day, we gave you a Visu­al­iza­tion of the Big Prob­lem for MOOCs, which comes down to this: low com­ple­tion rates. To be clear, the com­ple­tion rates aren’t so much a prob­lem for you; they’re more a prob­lem for the MOOC providers and their busi­ness mod­els. But let’s not get bogged down in that. We end­ed our post by ask­ing you to share your own expe­ri­ence with MOOCs — par­tic­u­lar­ly, to tell us why you start­ed and stopped a MOOC. We got close to 50 thought­ful respons­es. And below we’ve sum­ma­rized the 10 most com­mon­ly-cit­ed rea­sons. Here they are:

1.) Takes Too Much Time: Some­times you enroll in a MOOC, only to dis­cov­er that it takes way too much time. “Just didn’t have time to do all the work.” “As a full-time work­ing adult, I found it exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to watch hours upon hours of video lec­tures.” That’s a refrain we heard again and again.

2.) Assumes Too Much Knowl­edge: Oth­er times you enroll in a MOOC, only to find that it requires too much base knowl­edge, like a knowl­edge of advanced math­e­mat­ics. That makes the course an instant non-starter. So you opt out. Sim­ple as that.

3.) Too Basic, Not Real­ly at the Lev­el of Stan­ford, Oxford and MIT: On the flip side, some say that their MOOCs weren’t real­ly oper­at­ing on a seri­ous uni­ver­si­ty lev­el. The course­work was too easy, the work­load and assign­ments weren’t high enough. A lit­er­a­ture course felt more like a glo­ri­fied book club. In short, the cours­es weren’t the real uni­ver­si­ty deal.

4.) Lec­ture Fatigue: MOOCs often rely on for­mal video lec­tures, which, for many of you, is an“obsolete and inef­fi­cient for­mat.” And they’re just some­times bor­ing. MOOCs would be bet­ter served if they relied more heav­i­ly on inter­ac­tive forms of ped­a­gogy. Val put it well when she said, “We should not try to bring a brick and mor­tar lec­ture to your liv­ing room. Use the resources avail­able and make the learn­ing engag­ing with short­er seg­ments.… The goal should be to teach and teach bet­ter. If one of these online uni­ver­si­ties can fig­ure that out, then the mon­ey will fol­low.”

5.) Poor Course Design: You signed up for a MOOC and did­n’t know how to get going. One stu­dent relat­ed his expe­ri­ence: “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.”

6.) Clunky Community/Communication Tools: This has been the Achilles’ heel of online learn­ing for years, and so far the MOOCs haven’t quite fig­ured it out. It’s not unusu­al to hear this kind of com­ment from stu­dents: “I find that the dis­cus­sion forums aren’t very use­ful or engag­ing. They are not a very good sub­sti­tute for active in-class dis­cus­sion.”

7.) Bad Peer Review & Trolls: Because MOOCs are so big, you often don’t get feed­back from the pro­fes­sor. Instead you get it from algo­rithms and peers. And some­times the peers can be less than con­struc­tive. One read­er writes: “I chose to stop doing the peer response sec­tion of the class due to some stu­dents being treat­ed rude­ly [by oth­er stu­dents]; 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.… [T]here is no involve­ment of the pro­fes­sor or TA’s in mon­i­tor­ing the TORRENT of com­plaints about peer reviews.”

8.) Sur­prised by Hid­den Costs: Some­times you dis­cov­er that free MOOCs aren’t exact­ly free. They have hid­den costs. Brooke dropped her MOOC when she real­ized that the read­ings were from the pro­fes­sor’s expen­sive text­book.

9.) You’re Just Shop­ping Around: You shop for cours­es, which involves reg­is­ter­ing for many cours­es, keep­ing some, and drop­ping oth­ers. That inflates the low com­ple­tion rate, but it gives you free­dom. As one read­er said, “I am very, very hap­py about being able to be so picky.”

10.) You’re There to Learn, Not for the Cre­den­tial at the End: Some­times you do every­thing (watch the videos, do the read­ings, etc.) but take the final exam. In a cer­tain way, you’re audit­ing, which suits many of you just fine. It’s pre­cise­ly what you want to do. But that, too, makes the low com­ple­tion rates look worse than they maybe are.

Thanks to every­one who took the time to par­tic­i­pate. We real­ly appre­ci­ate it! And if you’re look­ing for a new MOOC, don’t miss our list, 300 Free MOOCs from Great Uni­ver­si­ties (Many Offer­ing Cer­tifi­cates).

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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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A Crash Course on Creativity and Other Stanford MOOCs to Launch in April: Enroll Today

Tina Seel­ig serves as the Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Stan­ford Tech­nol­o­gy Ven­tures Pro­gram, a cen­ter that teach­es stu­dents entre­pre­neur­ial skills need­ed to solve major world prob­lems. She is also the author of the 2012 book, inGe­nius: A Crash Course on Cre­ativ­i­ty, that oper­ates on the assump­tion that we’re not born being cre­ative and know­ing how to solve dif­fi­cult prob­lems. It’s some­thing that we can cul­ti­vate and learn (as John Cleese has also told us before). If you’re intrigued by this idea, and if you want to rev up your own “Inno­va­tion Engine,” you can take Seel­ig’s new course, also called A Crash Course on Cre­ativ­i­ty, start­ing on April 22. It’s one of five Stan­ford MOOCs (Mas­sive Open Online Cours­es) that will launch in April on the Ven­ture Lab plat­form. Oth­er cours­es now open for enroll­ment include:

Most Ven­ture Lab cours­es grant a “State­ment of Accom­plish­ment” signed by instruc­tors to any stu­dent who suc­cess­ful­ly com­pletes a course.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

300 Free MOOCs from Great Uni­ver­si­ties (Many Offer­ing Cer­tifi­cates)

John Cleese, Mon­ty Python Icon, on How to Be Cre­ative

Mal­colm McLaren: The Quest for Authen­tic Cre­ativ­i­ty

Mihaly Czik­szent­mi­ha­lyi on Cre­ativ­i­ty, Flow and the Source of Hap­pi­ness

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Dan Ariely’s MOOC, “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” Starts Monday

Back in Novem­ber we gave you a heads up on A Begin­ner’s Guide to Irra­tional Behav­ior, a MOOC being cre­at­ed by Dan Ariely. If you’re a fre­quent vis­i­tor to our site, you know that Ariely is a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy and behav­ioral eco­nom­ics at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty, who has pre­vi­ous­ly explained by why well-inten­tioned peo­ple lie, and why CEOs repeat­ed­ly get out­sized bonus­es that have no basis in ratio­nal­i­ty. Ariely’s six-week course final­ly begins tomor­row (Mon­day the 25th), so, before you miss the boat, reserve your free seat today.

A Begin­ner’s Guide to Irra­tional Behav­ior now appears on our  list of 300 Free MOOCs from Great Uni­ver­si­ties.

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Carnegie Hall MOOC Will Teach You How to Listen to Orchestras (Free)

In advance of its May 2013 con­cert series, Carnegie Hall has cre­at­ed a Mas­sive Open Online Course (MOOC) that will teach stu­dents how to lis­ten to orches­tras. The course, S4MU — short for Spring 4 Music Uni­ver­si­ty — is premised on the idea that “lis­ten­ing is an art itself,” and that you won’t over­come a tin ear by study­ing music the­o­ry alone. Start­ing on April 1, the four-week course will be taught by Bal­ti­more Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra con­duc­tor Marin Alsop; Art­sJour­nal edi­tor Dou­glas McLen­nan (seen above); com­pos­er Jen­nifer Hig­don; vocal­ist Storm Large; and con­duc­tor Leonard Slatkin. Like all oth­er MOOCs, the course is free. You can reserve your spot in the class right here.

Spring 4 Music Uni­ver­si­ty has been added to our com­plete list of MOOCs, where you will find 45 cours­es start­ing in April.

Thanks goes to Max­ine for the heads up on this new offer­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Bernstein’s Mas­ter­ful Lec­tures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Record­ed in 1973)

85,000 Clas­si­cal Music Scores (and Free MP3s) on the Web

Bob­by McFer­rin Shows the Pow­er of the Pen­ta­ton­ic Scale

Yale’s Open Course “Lis­ten­ing to Music”

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Michael Sandel’s Famous Harvard Course on Justice Launches as a MOOC on Tuesday

Back in 2009, Har­vard polit­i­cal philoso­pher Michael Sandel made his course, Jus­tice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, avail­able on the web for free (YouTube — iTunes — Web). Sud­den­ly life­long learn­ers around the world had access to a pop­u­lar course enjoyed by more than 14,000 Har­vard stu­dents over 30 years. Start­ing this Tues­day, Sandel plans to offer Jus­tice as a free course through edX, the provider of MOOCs (or Mas­sive Open Online Cours­es) cre­at­ed by Har­vard and MIT. And here’s one thing you can guar­an­tee: In a sin­gle offer­ing, Sandel will bring his course to more stu­dents world­wide than he did through his decades teach­ing at Har­vard. You can enroll and reserve your free seat here. Stu­dents who receive a pass­ing grade in the course can earn a cer­tifi­cate of mas­tery, which will bear the name Har­vardX.

Jus­tice has been added to our every grow­ing list of MOOCs from Great Uni­ver­si­ties.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Wal­ter Lewin, the Orig­i­nal Star of Open Edu­ca­tion, Returns with a Brand New Physics MOOC

Get Ready for MIT’s “Intro­duc­tion to Biol­o­gy: The Secret of Life” on edX

Har­vard and MIT Cre­ate EDX to Offer Free Online Cours­es World­wide

Learn to Code with Harvard’s Intro to Com­put­er Sci­ence Course And Oth­er Free Tech Class­es

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Learn to Code with Harvard’s Intro to Computer Science Course And Other Free Tech Classes

I’ll con­fess, when it comes to com­put­ers, I’m pret­ty much strict­ly a user. And these days, with the poten­tial free­dom and cre­ative­ly afford­ed by open access soft­ware, the end­less hacks for vir­tu­al­ly every­thing, and the avail­abil­i­ty of free online com­put­er class­es, that seems like kind of a lame admis­sion. So I’m tempt­ed to rec­ti­fy my pro­gram­ming igno­rance by push­ing through what promis­es to be a rig­or­ous intro to com­put­er sci­ence, CS50, Harvard’s intro­duc­to­ry course for both majors and non-majors alike. The course offers a broad knowl­edge base to build on, as you can see from the descrip­tion below:

Top­ics include abstrac­tion, algo­rithms, encap­su­la­tion, data struc­tures, data­bas­es, mem­o­ry man­age­ment, secu­ri­ty, soft­ware devel­op­ment, vir­tu­al­iza­tion, and web­sites. Lan­guages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. Prob­lem sets inspired by real-world domains of biol­o­gy, cryp­tog­ra­phy, finance, foren­sics, and gam­ing. Designed for con­cen­tra­tors and non-con­cen­tra­tors alike, with or with­out pri­or pro­gram­ming expe­ri­ence.

Har­vard has made this course avail­able free to anyone—via YouTubeiTunes, and the course page—with a series of lec­tures filmed dur­ing the Fall 2011 semes­ter. The class is led by David J. Malan, an enthu­si­as­tic young pro­fes­sor and Senior Lec­tur­er on Com­put­er Sci­ence at Har­vard, and him­self a prod­uct of Harvard’s Com­put­er Sci­ence pro­gram. Pro­fes­sor Malan has also offered Harvard’s CS50 as a MOOC through edX. In the intro­duc­to­ry lec­ture to CS50 (above), Malan promis­es that “this is one of those rare cours­es that actu­al­ly squeezes your brain so much and your sched­ule so much that by the end of the semes­ter you actu­al­ly feel smarter.”

Pro­fes­sor Malan has become some­thing of a hot shot at Har­vard. His mission—to make com­put­er sci­ence more acces­si­ble and far less daunt­ing. He’s done this in part by gen­er­ous­ly mak­ing sev­er­al of his cours­es avail­able free online to non-Har­vard stu­dents. In addi­tion to CS50, Malan offers the fol­low­ing cours­es for those who want to pur­sue pro­gram­ming or web design fur­ther:

And if you still need some sell­ing on the val­ues and virtues of com­put­er sci­ence, watch Malan below deliv­er an inspir­ing talk called “And the Geek Shall Inher­it the Earth” at Har­vard Thinks Big 2010 (Harvard’s ver­sion of TED Talks).

We’ve added Har­vard’s CS50 to the Com­put­er Sci­ence sec­tion of our list of 750 Free Online Cours­es and our list of 150 Free Busi­ness Cours­es.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Com­put­er Sci­ence: Free Cours­es

Codecademy’s Free Cours­es Democ­ra­tize Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming

Learn to Build iPhone & iPad Apps with Stanford’s Free Course, Cod­ing Togeth­er

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

Get Ready for MIT’s “Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life” on edX

edX announced today what looks like a promis­ing new open course — Intro­duc­tion to Biol­o­gy: The Secret of Life. Host­ed by pro­fes­sor Eric Lan­der, one of the lead­ers of the Human Genome Project, this course will give stu­dents a ground­ing in “top­ics taught in the MIT intro­duc­to­ry biol­o­gy cours­es and many biol­o­gy cours­es across the world.” The course will cov­er every­thing from the basics of DNA to the intri­ca­cies of genomics. And it won’t run you any mon­ey. But it will require some time — about 6–8 hours per week, across 12 weeks (March 5 — May 28). Plus here’s a nice perk: any stu­dent who earns a pass­ing grade will receive “a cer­tifi­cate of mas­tery,” also free of charge. You can enroll in the course right here.

We have added Intro­duc­tion to Biol­o­gy: The Secret of Life to our ever-grow­ing list of MOOCs/Free Cer­tifi­cate Cours­es, along with anoth­er pri­mo edx course, a MOOC ver­sion of Michael Sandel’s Jus­tice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?. Be sure to check it out.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.