By Steve Kolowich
In December 2013 a group of academics gathered during a Texas snowstorm and began the second phase of a discussion about massive open online courses. They were not terribly impressed by the hype the courses had received in the popular media, and they had set out to create a better body of literature about MOOCs—albeit a less sensational one.
The MOOC Research Initiative, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had given many of those academics research grants to study what was going on in the online courses. Now the organization has posted preliminary findings from some of those research projects.
The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed and should not be generalized, but they do represent some of the most rigorous analysis to date on MOOCs. Following is a synopsis of the more interesting findings. For wonkier interpretations of the data, you can find the researchers’ own summaries here.
1. If you are isolated, poor, and enamored of the prestigious university offering the MOOC you’re taking, you are less likely to complete it.
Researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College asked students to rate their reasons for registering for “Big Data in Education,” a MOOC the university offered through Coursera. Students who said they were “geographically isolated from educational institutions,” “cannot afford to pursue a formal education,” and were motivated because the “course is offered by a prestigious university” were less likely than others to finish the course.
2. Coaching students to have a healthier mindset about learning may not help in a MOOC.
Carol S. Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, famously coined the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” to describe opposing ways people think about intelligence. People with a fixed mindset believe their thinking skills are set in concrete; those with a growth mindset think those skills can grow and improve in the right circumstances.
Staging “mindset interventions” can help students become better learners, writes Daniel Greene, a doctoral student in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/5-things-researchers-have-discovered-about-moocs/53585 ]