When Penn leapt into online education through a partnership with Coursera two years ago, the abrupt rise of “massively open online courses” was fueling rampant speculation about how they might transform the higher-education marketplace [“MOOC U.,” Mar|Apr 2013]. Two million students later—that’s how many had registered for Penn’s Coursera offerings through this spring—emerging evidence has tempered expectations and begun to provide a more nuanced perspective. Appropriately enough, given the University’s large footprint in the MOOC realm, some of the most illuminating research has come out of Penn.
A December 2013 study led by Laura Perna C’88 W’88, a professor and executive director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy in the Graduate School of Education, analyzed the movement of some 1 million online pupils through 16 Penn Coursera courses. The verdict: persistence is rare. Completion rates averaged 4 percent across all the courses. Those with lighter workloads held onto a slightly larger fraction of registrants—6 percent—but variables like course length and the availability of “live chat” made no statistically significant difference. The outlier was a Penn Medicine course in “Cardiac Arrest, Hypothermia, and Resuscitation Science,” which boasted a 14 percent completion rate.
To some extent, the study reaffirms what often goes with the ease of signing up for an Internet freebie. Only about half of those 1 million registrants viewed as much as a single lecture within their selected course. On the flip side, those half-million pupils probably learned at least something for their limited trouble. As an example, take “Introduction to Operations Management,” taught by Christian Terwiesch, the Andrew H. Heller Professor at Wharton. Only 2 percent of registrants completed the course, but more than 20,000 people submitted quiz answers in each of its first five weeks. If some knowledge is better than none, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Neither, it goes without saying, is the expansion of cardiac-resuscitation know-how to the roughly 6,000 pupils who made it to the end of that course.
[ Full article available at The Pennsylvania Gazette: http://thepenngazette.com/course-evaluation-mooc-edition/ ]