What percentage of registered users complete MOOCs? Do MOOC students learn through a course sequentially in the order identified by the course instructor or do they access content in their own way? What are the milestones that predict students’ course completion? A recent study addresses these questions through descriptive data analyses based on sixteen MOOCs taught by University of Pennsylvania faculty between June 2012 and July 2013. The courses ranged from science and math to the humanities.
The study specifically investigates two groups of MOOC users: registrants and starters. Registrants were all those who signed up for a course before it started and were eligible to receive a grade and starters were the subset of the registrant group who signed up for their course during the first week of class. There were over 700,000 MOOC registrants over the sixteen courses and among these 78% were starters. However, course completion rates were very low: only 12% of registrants actually completed a MOOC.
A small percentage of users took advantage of the openness of course platforms to determine their own approaches to accessing content, but most users explored the courses in the linear, sequential way intended by the instructor. High drop-offs were found among registrants before the first lecture, and students’ overall retention rate was below 40% even based on the calculation of the number of users who accessed the first course module. It was also noted that students who attended a lecture in the fourth week were likely to visit subsequent sessions, suggesting that accessing the first lecture and participating in the first several sessions are important milestones for course completion.
The low completion rates and dramatic declines early in MOOCs may indicate that students are browsing courses out of curiosity and dropping out due to waning interest, time, or motivation to complete the course for various reasons. Given the rapid development of MOOCs around the world and the currently undefined best practices of MOOC-based instruction, more research is needed to understand students’ experience of MOOCs, such as their reported learning goals and the challenges they encounter. Additional research is needed to investigate how course design characteristics and online pedagogical practices may influence user outcomes.Flickr