Why Most MOOCs Fail

Online education has not lived up to its potential. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have not delivered on their mission to transform education worldwide. More than 90% of people who enroll for a MOOC don’t finish. And many who do finish don’t enroll for another course.

Why is online education failing? One reason is that online courses have not adapted to modern realities. People have to find time for their studies in short snippets of time between life and work. According to a recent Duke University survey MOOC students cited “lack of time/amount of time required” as one of the main reasons for not completing their course. The reading assignments, audio files, videos and homework of online courses take a long time to complete, and courses still follow the same semester format.

In an article in Science entitled “The MOOC Pivot”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Justin Reich and José A. Ruipérez-Valiente explain why MOOCs have largely not delivered on their promise to transform education worldwide.

1.    Low completion rates

The fact that so few students complete their online studies is indicative of a problem within the system. Even if you take into account that many students enroll in online courses for knowledge or edification, and not necessarily towards an academic credit, the numbers are unacceptably low. Inside Higher Ed reports that only 3.13 % of MOOC students completed their courses in 2017-18. That figure was 4 % the two previous years and nearly 6 % in 2014-15.

The fact that course completion rates are so low and are showing no signs of improving is a problem, especially taking into account the investment that went into course development and learning research, write Reich and Ruipérez-Valiente. Also, low completion rates do nothing to enhance the reputation of online learning marketplaces. They must find a way to help students complete their studies.

2.    The majority of MOOC learners never return after their first year

Most students enroll one time and then don’t continue the next year, the report found. For the most part, students don’t seriously commit to online studies. In 2015-16 1.1 million students took their first massive open online course, but only 12 % enrolled again the following year. This issue continues year on year.

3.       Most MOOC students come from the world’s most affluent countries

Online education providers have not succeeded in democratizing access to higher education. The vast majority of students that have been enrolling in MOOCs are from developed countries. In 2017-18, more than two-thirds of enrolled students (around 954,426 people) came from developed countries or countries categorized as having “very high” human development.

Another report, this time by Spiros Protopsaltis, an associate professor and director of the Center for Education Policy and Evaluation at George Mason University and Sandy Baum, found, amongst other problems, that the general public is skeptical about the quality and value of online education, which they view as inferior to face-to-face education.

Maybe this is the bottom line – the simple fact that getting an education through a screen, text files, videos, and audio files simply doesn’t compare to face-to-face instruction. People don’t value this kind of education, so they don’t really commit to it.

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