There’s been no shortage of reports on low completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs), but maybe the critics are looking at it the wrong way. Harvard researcher Justin Reich thinks so and conducted a study to understand why people take MOOCs in the first place.
Nearly 80,000 people taking one of nine MOOCs offered by Harvard responded to Reich’s survey about their goals. He sorted the respondents into categories—completers, auditors, browsers, and unsure—and found that 19.5% of the respondents who intended to complete the course did finish. Just 5.4% of the respondents who never intended to complete the MOOC in the first place actually made it to the end.
The study wasn’t conducted to convince the critics, but to find distinctions among people who take MOOCs.
“If researchers can discern how many students leave MOOCs because of life’s other commitments, it might help estimate a reasonable ceiling on retention rates in voluntary, free, and open online courses,” Reich wrote. “Further, uncovering how many students leave because they are dissatisfied with a course might better estimate the MOOC attrition levels that course developers could realistically address through better instructional design.”