MOOC completion rates aren’t all that low, writes Kevin Carey on EdCentral.
That’s misleading, Carey counters. That four percent appears to be the percent of “registrants” who finished the course; it includes people who never logged on and those who logged on and immediately dropped out.
For example, Penn’s “Mythology” MOOC attracted about 15,000 registrants who never started, 20,000 starters who immediately stopped and 25,000 active users. “Nearly 60 percent of the people the study reported as not finishing the course never tried to finish,” writes Carey.
Of 25,000 active users, only 1,350 completed the course. That’s not much, Carey concedes. But it’s very close to the percentage of Penn applicants who complete a degree.
Anyone can sign up for a Coursera course, just as anyone can apply to Penn.
Last year, 31,218 students applied to Penn. Thirteen percent were admitted, and 63 percent of those students enrolled. In other words, Penn had (or will have) roughly: 27,200 Applicants who were not admitted 1,500 Admittants who did not enroll 330 Enrollees who did not graduate 2,200 Graduates Or, to put it another way, about seven percent of all students who “signed up” for the University of Pennsylvania by submitting an application end up graduating four years later, which is almost precisely the same as the percentage of Active Users who completed a MOOC in the study held up as evidence that MOOCs don’t work very well.
Penn doesn’t admit the less capable, less motivated applicants, writes Carey. Coursera lets everyone try.
Applying to Penn takes effort and money, while signing up for Coursera takes 30 seconds and is free.
An apples-to-apples comparison would probably include everyone who requested a Penn application, or logged onto registrar’s website, but didn’t complete an application. That number would be substantially larger than 31,218, and drive the graduation ratio down further still.
Nearly all Penn undergrads are full-time students who’ve invested a lot of money in their degree, so they’re highly motivated to finish. “Coursera students come in all ages and nationalities and many already have college degrees,” Carey writes. They’ve invested no money, so they can quit without penalty.
The Penn study concludes the 16 MOOCS have “few active users” and that “few” students persist to the end. But Mythology drew 25,000 active users, which is more than twice the number of Penn undergrads, Carey points out. The 1,350 who finished represent a huge increase in Mythology completers. “The researchers could have taken exactly the same data and issued a report finding that ‘MOOCs achieve ten-fold increase in course completers for Ivy League class, at zero cost to students’.”
After suspending its MOOC trial for a semester, San Jose State will offer three online courses developed with Udacity in the spring. The online versions of Elementary Statistics, Introduction to Programming and General Psychology won’t be massive or open. Class size will be limited and only California State University students will be eligible.