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What separates a good MOOC from a bad one?

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What separates a good MOOC from a bad one?

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When you’re looking to gauge the success of anything, the process depends very much on the metric you use.  Statistics can be manipulated to say pretty much anything you want, so deciding upon an appropriate measure of success is crucial.  For MOOCs, that metric has typically been the completion rate for a course.

A recent study by Katy Jordan from the Open University, themselves the founders of MOOC network Future Learn, produced some interesting findings around completion rates, and importantly, some distinctions between courses with high completion rates vs those with lower ones.

Smaller class sizes

Arguably the most interesting finding to emerge is around class sizes.  Just as in real world classes, it seems that smaller classes seem to produce higher completion rates.  Of course, class sizes in the MOOC world is a relative term, and in this study a small class was regarded as one with a few thousand sign-ups.  It emerged that the most successful courses achieved a completion rate of above 50%, which is a world away from some of the more popular classes that struggled along in single figures.

Short courses for the win

As you can perhaps understand in our want it yesterday age, courses that could be completed in 4-7 weeks tended to have the highest completion rate.  When a course dragged on for 8 weeks or more, the completion rate rapidly plunged downwards.

It’s interesting to compare this data with previous research into MOOC engagement.  For instance, the MOOC Research Initiative report from earlier this summer highlighted the important role early engagement played in course completion.  Students who got involved in their courses were found to be more likely to last the distance. This manifested itself in strong levels of student engagement in the early stages of a course, with discussions around class events particularly common.

Equally, it was found that those who did manage to complete the course were confident that they would do so from the outset.  This was reflected in an overwhelming desire towards self-improvement, with these intrinsic goals supporting the completion of the course better than any external ones.

There is a growing amount of data available for MOOC suppliers to use when designing their courses.  Hopefully this will foster a natural evolution and improvement in the offering over the coming years.  Assuming, of course, that chasing higher completion rates is the right metric to look at.

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