GSE study finds low percentage of MOOC users completing courses

Laura Perna and her research team studied 17 first generation Penn courses on listed on Coursera

· January 15, 2014, 8:40 pm   ·  Updated January 15, 2014, 10:00 pm

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A new study by the Graduate School of Education reveals that completing MOOCs remains a lofty goal for many registered students.

In April 2012, Penn announced a partnership with Coursera, a startup which offers MOOCs, free online classes open to everyone. At the time, administrators praised the courses, arguing that they made a Penn education accessible on a global scale.

According to GSE’s research, user engagement drops significantly after the first two weeks of a course — very few users keep taking quizzes and completing homework.

The research focused on courses taught by Penn faculty through Coursera. The team tracked one million users who enrolled in 17 first-generation Penn courses from June 2012 to June 2013. Courses ranged from “Introduction to Operations Management” and “Principles of Microeconomics” to “Greek and Roman Mythology.”

Related: Study: MOOC students are highly educated, job-oriented

Variations in course orientation, structure and approach produced a wide range of results in research findings, according to the presentation presented by GSE professor and principal investigator Laura Perna.

“We try to understand how students are engaged in these courses and what the benefits are for those who are participating more sporadically,” Perna said.

According to researchers, the percentage of users who completed a course was affected by the expected workload and the number of assignments. Students persisted to the end of a course more frequently when they were given a lighter workload.

Many of the students who completed the course did not submit many assignments. Less than 15 percent of the registrants in each of the respective courses completed the course with a final grade of above 80 percent.

Related: Penn conference evaluates MOOCs past, future

Among the 17 courses looked at in the study, “Cardiac Arrest, Resuscitation Science and Hypothermia” saw the highest percentage of registered users — 13 percent —accessing the course during its final week.

Perna argued at the MOOC Research Initiative Conference in Texas in December 2013 that this does not necessarily indicate that Coursera courses are failing in their mission. “Even though persistence rate is low, it’s still a large number of people. Four percent of a million is a lot of people that are able to try the courses with no penalty,” she said.

She also believes that the implications of the research will allow faculty to learn from the first generation of Coursera classes how to engage students and give them a meaningful experience.

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