Have MOOCs Delivered On The Promise Of Revolution In Higher Education? Depends On How You Look At It

Only a few short years ago, MOOCs (massive open online courses) were hailed as almost a silver bullet which is going to fix everything that’s wrong with the higher education of today. However, has online education really lived up to its hype? Considering the abysmal completion rates of MOOCs – which are hovering at about five percent at best, the answer would appear to be a resounding “no”.What went wrong? The idea was of delivering first-class content from the most eminent professors working at some of the best universities in the world – to the masses, via the internet – for the low, low price of free. A noble, innovative (almost revolutionary!) idea attractive for all the parties involved, but hasn’t it failed? Well, the answer is not as clear-cut as it would seem when you look solely at the number of completion certificates issued.

While only about five percent of students who enroll in a MOOC actually complete the course and receive a certificate of accomplishment, more than eighty percent claim that they have met their objectives. This is a curious contradiction, but only for those who fail to acknowledge the fact that MOOCs are a completely different beast than its traditional counterparts. Obviously, MOOCs cannot be judged by the same standards: there is no cost to enroll and no penalty for dropping out. And, let’s be honest: the certificate you earn for completing an online course is still not accounting for much in the real world.Until these facts change, students are going to use MOOCs as a sort of intellectual buffet: they will watch a lecture or two on a subject that piqued their curiosity, albeit only in passing, or exchange their views about a certain topic on a students’ discussion forum. Completing exams and earning a certificate is simply not their primary objective for enrolling in a MOOC!

Thus, one-third of all students who enroll in a MOOC watch at least one lecture, one-third of these students stick around for a month, one-third of those for two months, and finally, one-third of them is going to stick around long enough to actually complete the course. This “rule of thirds”, however, may be masking an important statistic that should not be overlooked: the engagement rate is still at sixty percent! Plus, of course, the absolute numbers for MOOCs are well beyond those for traditional classes. While a five percent completion rate may indeed sound as an outright failure, it still produces thousands of students who do complete the courses.

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