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Perhaps the more accurate analogy for MOOC providers with a commercial interest is that MOOCs are like advertisements. Readers glance at an advertisement and may skim read bits of it. All that's important to the advertiser though is brand visibility - and the possibility that someone somewhere might sooner or later buy their product.


Hi Gabi, I think that is true for many but would depend on what the purpose of the MOOC was. Some MOOCs might be run with the intention of helping people update skills, or be part of a community. There is no further product as such that they are trying to sell eg there are MOOCs on becoming a student. These are aimed at people who are already signed up to start at uni, and it's about helping them make that transition. So it's not really an advert, more an additional resource.


I am one of those who don't think that MOOC completion rates are a valid source of criticism of MOOCs as compared to traditional education. When you take into account the investment in money and time even a 10% drop out rate for universities should quite alarming. http://researchity.net/2012/08/18/mooc-motivations-and-magnitudes

Sure, people don't generally approach MOOCs as if it were a newspaper or a textbook (although I have done this with two MOOCs of interest to me). However, that is not an argument against MOOCs in general, just against the way the materials are presented on the web. Here, the O for openness is more important than anything else.

But even though I accept your criticism of the way MOOCs (or at least their websites) are structured, the underlying issues apply equally to traditional education. Apart from large drop out rates in traditional education, there is the ignore and forget aspect. Most students forget most of what they've learned in class (unless it is reinforced by practical use - e.g. medicine, law, teaching). Why not just cut down what you present to 10%. Almost nobody reads most academic books cover to cover. Still I haven't perceived a noticeable monograph slimming. While we're at it, try quizzing a book author on all the facts in her own work.

Finally, while I'm not friend of commercialization of learning, I don't see the vested status quo interests of many MOOC opponents as any more superior than the commercial interests of which people are so suspicious.

I'm not saying this because I think MOOCs are completely new in every aspect or that they will transform education completely. I never thought that. But the majority of their pedagogical faults are shared by the incumbents.


Perhaps worth considering is what mean ye by "completion"? Showing up? Passing an exam? These are completions as decided by the course provider. Where is the part of what a student determines they got out of a course?

I could not agree more (well maybe I can) about the blind allegiance we have to the weekly schedule, one that beats out like the rowers on the Roman slave ship where Ben Hur was pulling oars http://cogdogblog.com/2012/08/15/mooc-ramming-speed/

The weekly pace structure serves the course provider as much as the assembly line served Ford. Ok maybe extreme. But few question it- why must open course proceed at such a fixed pace?

A nice exception was the ETMOOC one run by Alec Couros in 2013- a two week pace gave more reasonable time to reflect and think about the concepts.

It feels like a factory floor.

Juliette Culver

Anecdotally, I've signed up for about six MOOCs, started about three of them (the timing just didn't work out for the others). Of those three I dropped out of two within the first couple of weeks. The other one I completed and got very engaged with - I participated in the forums, looked forward to the new videos coming out each week and even felt slightly sad when it finished. I carried on until the end for that one because it was a much better MOOC than the other two and I'm sure it wasn't a coincidence that it had a ridiculously high completion rate overall. It wasn't that I was only interested in the first couple of weeks content or had got everything I wanted out of the course, I just made a trade-off between my time and whether the course content was inspiring and interesting enough to continue.


Another take on MOOC "completion rates": http://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/news/mooc-study-creates-new-taxonomy-engagement


@dominik - hi, I hadn't made that connection with knowledge retention, so thanks. I do think this is different though. Although you are right, lots of knowledge isn't retained, a lot of the more nebulous, generic skills are. I remember being told "long after you have forgotten all the papers we give you to read you will remember how to be a scientist". My point was more that if we have good stuff in the later parts of MOOCs, people simply aren't getting to see it, so we should reconsider their design if we think that stuff is important.
@Alan - actually I was talking about activity rates, which is just turning up, although people do have different definitions of completion. Sadly people just aren't turning up for those later weeks. And it would be ok if it was a different 10% in week 7 than it was in week 3 (as Stephen seems to suggest) but it isn't, so people aren't picking and choosing the bits they like best. I agree about Alec's course, and I think that illustrates that if you want the newspaper type model then you have to rethink design quite radically.


Of course it would matter if MOOC providers achieved 90% completion rates, because that would then become their selling point. But as it stands, course completion isn't what it's about. It's about what each individual can take from a course. For some, it will be just snippets of useful information. For others, it will be the desire to learn a new skill fully from start to end.

MOOCs are viable so long as they provide an offering on different levels - up to the learner to decide what he or she wants out of it.

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