By Steve Kolowich
Completion rates in free online courses are low—to critics, laughably so. But exactly how low are they? The answer might be a matter of interpretation.
Let’s say 79,500 people sign up for a handful of massive open online courses offered by Harvard University. About 44,500 of those people say they are there to complete the course and earn a certificate. About 23,000 say they are there either to browse the course materials or to complete a few assignments. The remaining 12,000 say they haven’t decided what their goals are.
At the end of the course, 10,500 people earn a certificate of completion. So what was the completion rate?
It depends on whether you think intent matters.
Those numbers are from a new study by Justin Reich, a research fellow at Harvard. Noticing how critics had seized on the low completion rates in MOOCs, Mr. Reich decided to complicate things by figuring out whether the people who were “failing” to complete the courses had actually been trying to complete them in the first place.
He got nearly 80,000 people taking nine Harvard MOOCs to respond to a survey about their goals. He sorted them into four categories: completers, auditors, browsers, and “unsure.” Then he tracked them.
The overall completion rate among survey respondents was 13.3 percent.
Among those who had intended to complete the course, the rate was 19.5 percent.
Among those who had not intended to complete the course, it was 5.4 percent.
[ Full article available at The Chronicle of Higher Education: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/rethinking-low-completion-rates-in-moocs/55211 ]