Harvard study looks at relationship between MOOC students' intentions, completion rates

December 16, 2014

A new study from Harvard University research fellow Justin Reich takes a closer look at completion rates for massive open online courses (MOOCs) and finds that for MOOCs, completion may come down to students’ intentions. Reich surveyed close to 80,000 individuals who enrolled in 9 Harvard MOOCs and sorted respondents into 4 categories: completers, auditors, browsers, and “unsure.” The overall completion rate was 13.3%; however, among those who said that they had intended to complete the course, the completion rate rose to 19.5%. Reich says that while he does not expect his data to silence critics of MOOCs, he feels that his work will provide a “useful reference point.” His team intends to draw up more formal guidelines to better distinguish among students who sign up for free online courses. Reich says that people shouldn’t assume that everyone signing up for a MOOC plans on completing it; because MOOCs are more accessible than traditional courses, they are likely to attract a greater variety of goals, expectations, and motivations. “This research has provided better answers to the question: Why do people come to these MOOCs? The next challenge is to get better answers to the question: Why do people leave?” Reich writes. The Chronicle of Higher Education | Full Report