Completion Rates Plague MOOCs

Photo by: William IvenPeople are often quick to give praise to online courses. They are flexible, accessible, and efficient.

It is a major reason why massive open online courses (MOOCs) have hundreds of thousands of active students taking courses online. Major universities like Stanford, University of Michigan, Yale (and others) offer online courses because it helps them reach more perspective students and is good for their brand.

But what it all boils down to is one thing: completion rates.

Truth be told, completion rates are quite dismal for online courses. If an in-person course had the same completion rates as online courses typical do then you wouldn’t see that course offered very long. No university would be able to survive the negative connotations of extremely low completion rates

Yet this is exactly the situation for online courses. The numbers shine light on the ugly truth of online courses.

Online courses seem to be overlooking this important statistic, instead focusing on metrics like enrollment numbers. In the context of MOOCs, their focus is on driving traffic to the site. The more people on the site the more valuable their web property.

Completion data is a real “black eye” for the e-learning world. We need to better understand the reason for drop-off so that the course content can be modified to help combat the issue. Of course, this is easier said than done.

So yes, while I do maintain that online course afford people an educational opportunity that has never been possible before, I do think we need to be realistic in how effective it is. Sure, it’s good, but it can be (a lot) better.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

5 Comments
  1. “But what it all boils down to is one thing: completion rates.”

    I respectfully disagree. Course completion is an arbitrary standard for success. If someone logs into a MOOC, watches two or three videos that genuinely interested them, and then move on with their lives, in what sense is this not success? Does it “all boil down” to accessing *all* of a course’s content–even the stuff the learner already knows or has no interest in?

    • That’s a fair point Ben… unless you’re in the business of offering real accredited certifications like my client. If our students don’t complete their courses and the projects that go with the courses, they do not get certified and are not allowed to legally practice their chosen career. For universities this would be the same problem if their online courses form part of a degree etc.

  2. Mike M.

    Great topic, Justin. You seem to be in an ideal position to gather and disseminate valuable insights about this “black eye”. I do hope you’ll keep us posted on anything you learn. Thanks again for the article.

  3. What is very interesting is that researchers are now focusing in on what does work on MOOCs with those peer cohorts that do pull through. They are finding that social interaction = engagement. And so facilities for small group collaboration are envisaged as being the answer as they facilitate higher order learnong. However, not one of the big MOOC platforms are doing this. They are xMOOCs = aimed at the masses and at a transferral of knowledge. However, with the many hybrid solutions that are now emerging, who knows if there might be successful cMOOC models ( aimed at leveraging connections and connectivist learning). I am for one, extremely excited about the possibilities affirded through Learndash combined with social learner i.e tge potential for social learning in smaller groups and for building community. 🙂

  4. Ceil Tilney

    So excited to see the continued evolution away from the old infantilizing model of education to one in which rational adults choose the behavior that works for them. If I got everything I needed from a course halfway through, why on earth should I waste my time completing it? What possibly possesses the creator of the course to presume they know what I need? If what I need is a certificate of completion, then I’ll finish it.

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