How are We MOOCing?


This winter break and holidays have been an ideal time for me to work on my MA research, which focuses on power and ideological borders within MOOC interfaces. Having already written about 40% of the anticipated 15,000-word thesis essay, I find my interest and desire to learn about MOOCs grow stronger each time I come across new findings that add to current discussions.

Although there has been a tone of work and scholarship about MOOCs circulating on the Internet, researchers and graduate students are still hungry for new, solid, up-to-date findings that could validate the debates on whether this phenomenon would transform higher education, or just turn out to be another damp squib.

After some long waiting, UPenn Graduate School of Education released on Dec. 5, 2013 their initial report on a study that analyzed the movement of a million users through 16 Coursera courses offered by the University of Pennsylvania from June 2012 to June 2013. These findings were presented by Laura Perna and Alan Ruby at the MOOC Research Initiative Conference (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) in Texas.

Emerging findings (quoted from PennGSE Press Room; emphases added):

  • Course completion rates are very low, averaging 4% across all courses and ranging from 2% to 14% depending on the course and measurement of completion.
  • Across the 16 courses, completion rates are somewhat higher, on average, for courses with lower workloads for students and fewer homework assignments (about 6% versus 2.5%).
  • Variations in completion rates based on other course characteristics (e.g., course length, availability of live chat) were not statistically significant.
  • The total number of individuals accessing a course varied considerably across courses, ranging from more than 110,000 for “Introduction to Operations Management” to about 13,000 for “Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources.”
  • Across all courses, about half of those who registered viewed at least one lecture within their selected course. The share of registrants viewing at least one lecture ranged from a low of 27% for “Rationing and Allocating Scarce Medical Resources” to a high of 68% for “Fundamentals of Pharmacology.”

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