Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Do online courses have an issue with dropouts?

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of university. Sergey Brin is officially on leave from his Ph.D. studies at Stanford.

There are quite a few less glamorous examples of college dropouts however.

In 2011, the Harvard Graduate School of Education published a study showing that only 56 percent of US college students completed four-year degrees within six years.

What is the situation in the world of the MOOCs?

In the seminal AI class launched in September 2011, less than 20% of the students enrolled earned a certificate. Although course’s dropout rates may vary and data is hard to come by, a figure of 90% can be considered conservative. Duke University’s first MOOC, A Quantitative Approach to Bioelectricity saw 346 students take the final exam and 313 pass it, when 12,735 had registered.

What can explain the MOOCs’ dropout rates?

Registering for a MOOC is by definition free and non binding. Most students register without considering the hard work often necessary to obtain a certificate. A lot of students might even be registering to be kept informed about courses with unannounced start dates.

Importantly, none of the students leaving a MOOC they have registered for, without a certificate of completion will be left saddled with student loans.

It is perhaps no surprise that many more students register for courses than expect to follow them to completion. According to Daphne Koller of Coursera 70% of the fee-paying Signature Track students graduated from their courses. This clearly shows that making a financial commitment increases retention.

Does any of this matter?

On the issue of student retention, free online courses shouldn’t be held to the same standards as traditional universities.
Student retention is nonetheless an issue for MOOCs to be widely perceived as a force to be reckoned with in the future of education.

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