This week we’ve been thinking about MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Courses), which have become more established in the past year - click here if you need a quick overview.

One of the big points of debate is the dramatic student dropout rates from MOOCs (typically 85% - 95%) and what this means for their future development. We came across a couple of interesting things which gave us pause for thought.

Dr Kevin Devlin, Mathematician at Stanford University made the point in the Huffington Post that the metrics being used to understand MOOCs were simply not relevant:

“…applying the traditional metrics of higher education to MOOCs is entirely misleading. MOOCs are a very different kind of educational package, and they need different metrics -- metrics that we do not yet know how to construct.”

We think he has a point, and this was reinforced when we read new research from three doctoral students at Stanford University. The students suggested that the debate on large scale dropout implied a binary categorisation of learners, i.e. those that pass the class and those that don’t.

What the research identified was that there was another group of learners that stayed engaged but didn’t take the final test. These ‘auditing’ learners watched the video lectures and followed the majority of the course, but they simply didn’t obtain a credit. The research demonstrates that these learners are currently being overlooked in all debates and discussions about MOOC drop out rates simply because they don’t take the test. Engagement of this sort is still valuable learning.

Everyone gets dazzled by the enormous numbers surrounding MOOCs but this research reminded us that learning isn’t just about ace-ing the test. Anyone involved in this fascinating area needs to stay focused on the students that are engaged, what engagement looks like and how design of MOOCs can meet their differing needs.

Khalid Raza who lives in India, participated in a Gamification course delivered by Professor Kevin Werbach from the University of Pennsylvania. He offered the following insight:

“As a MOOC participant you need to be able to self-regulate your learning. I chose to participate fully but in the end it’s you, the learner, that decides what you need and whether you’re successful or not. It’s in your hands.”

(Hat tip to Annie Murphy Paul for highlighting the research on her blog)

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