According to this source, the average completion rate for MOOCs is under 10%. What is the solution? Some say that we need to create certificates of completion or signature tracks. Others argue that adding a small fee leads to greater retention and completion. Still others seek to solve this problem through design considerations, making the courses more engaging. I have a different approach. What if we just redefine what we mean by completion rate. Let me start by proclaiming, with delight, that MOOCs have closer to a 100% completion rate.
How could I suggest such a thing? It is because MOOCs are not courses in the same sense as a closed, fee-based online class that is part of a larger program at a University. That second letter in MOOC stands for “open” and I suggest that means something more than free, accessible or without walls. I realize that the word “open” is used in any number of ways today, but I am compelled to draw, at least in part, from the concept of open learning. With that in mind, open is also about self-directed learning and interest-driven learning.
Whether we are talking about xMOOCs, cMOOCs or some other model that we have yet to label, open learning is open to be used or unused as determined by the individual. So, how about a different definition of completion rate or retention? How about a self-directed version of these terms? Or what if we choose to measure something else? We are not talking about cloistered, credit-based, feel-based, instructor-controlled learning with MOOCs. We are referring to about an entirely different type of learning. I’ve signed up for dozens of MOOCs that I never started, dozens more that I participated in off and on, and still others that I participated in throughout the entire course. In some cases, I submitted “assignments”, but in most I did what I wanted and left the rest. As a result, I have a perfect record in MOOCs, a 100% completion rate. I completed 100% of what I decided to complete. That is the nature of the MOOC.
And yet, we are analyzing participants as if we were talking about traditional courses. We don’t say that people who went on fifty dates before dating and marrying one had a 2% completion rate. We also don’t measure the effectiveness of a conference by the number of people who attended 100% of the sessions and stayed until the last event. How about hosting an open house and then measuring the success of the event by the number of people that we retained until the closing minutes of the open house?
There are certainly examples of people who sign up for a MOOC with the goal of completing all the assignment or tasks in the course, and then not doing so. Even in such a circumstance, I see no reason to measure the success by looking at completion or retention rate. For the sake of the course host and designer, it is useful to understand levels of engagement, participant goals and perceptions, or perhaps levels of satisfaction, by why not create a different model for looking at the “success” of a MOOC?
Part of the challenge is that we are using the word “course” when we talk about a MOOC. In many ways, I would prefer a different word, maybe “learning community”, but I guess that MOOLC doesn’t roll of the tongue. This post is more than a play on words. It is a challenge to the trend toward forcing MOOCs back into the box of the traditional concept of schooling.
We can look at this from another perspective as well. Consider the fact that students sign up for MOOCs for different reasons. Some intend to just look around. Others want to gather content but not complete assignments. Then there are the students who want to complete the assignments but are not interested in watching lectures or completing all the readings. There are many styles of MOOC student, each with different goals. MOOC participants have this choice. They are not like traditional teacher-directed courses where students are expected to submit to each course requirement. Everything in a MOOC is more like an item on an menu, and students will choose what they want, when they want it, and how long they will stick around. It seems to me that such a perspective is more helpful than just describing students as persisting or dropping out, passing or failing.
Regardless of what I have to say about it, I’m sure that many will continue to wrap MOOCs in their school boxes and give them away as wonderful gifts to the world. The conversations about MOOCs for credit are well underway. This doesn’t change my approach to the subject. Feel free to use MOOCs for any number of purposes, including using them for credit or as part of an overall program. Any yet, there are plenty of us who will continue to find ways to keep MOOCs open, self-directed and continuing to function with an impressive 100% completion rate.