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New study dissects the MOOC student body

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New study dissects the MOOC student body

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There have been a number of attempts over the past few years to try and better understand the kind of people that sign up for a MOOC course.  Many of these have characterized MOOC students as male, reasonably young and owners of graduate level qualifications.

The latest effort was published recently by Cornell and Stanford.  Rather than look at the demographic peculiarities of your average MOOC student however, the study looked instead at the student in terms of how they behave when enrolled.

To do this, they trawled through the engagement behaviours of over 300,000 students enrolled on courses via Coursera.  This analysis uncovered five distinct type of MOOC student, each with particular characteristics that the researchers hope will help universities target their offerings more effectively.

  1. Bystandars are students who are probably at the lowest end of the engagement ladder.  They’ll sign up for a course, but then not really engage with it.  Some might not even log-in to the course once it begins.
  2. Collectors on the other hand are slightly further up the ladder.  They’ll consume the video content provided by the course, but they won’t do a great deal of interaction with fellow students.
  3. Viewers are similar to the collectors in that their primary means of engagement with the course is via the lectures.  Despite watching the content however, the viewer is unlikely to complete many of the assignments.
  4. Solvers tend to be polar opposite to the viewers.  They’ll do a lot of the assignments, without necessarily having watched the lectures beforehand.
  5. All rounders are undoubtedly the holy grail however, as these are the people that do it all.  They’ll watch the lectures and do the assignments.

Whilst the demographic analysis of earlier studies is interesting, I arguably think this kind of insight is more valuable, as it highlights the variety of students attracted to a typical MOOC.  It underlines that success is very different for different people, and this needs to be taken into account, as traditionally a low completion rate was seen as a failure.  This research should reinforce the fact that not all students actually want to ‘graduate’.  For many, they just want to learn some new things, dipping in and out when it suits them.

This is no doubt not an issue for the majority of MOOC students who are doing courses for their personal enjoyment and satisfaction, but for those looking for career progression, the evidence of their learning can often be key.  This study shows that when it comes to corporate learning, we may need to find better ways of analyzing someones knowledge than a diploma.

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