Wednesday, 20 November 2013

MOOC 'Dropout' ?

'Dropout' is a term used very loosely in the context of MOOCs. We see/hear media reports saying there is a dropout of X% but what does this 'dropout' really mean?

Photo by: Richard Thomas

Recently a discussion about 'dropouts' was initiated by one of the participants of our #FLMobiGame MOOC and this prompted me to write this post.

A recent paper about dropouts in EDUCAUSE titled 'Retention and Intention in Massive Open Online Courses'  gives a good picture of what the scale of dropout in MOOCs. This paper shows that in general a typical Coursera MOOC (in 2012) attracted 40,000 to 60,000 enrolments but only 50-60% of these students actually returned for the first lecture. Out of these huge enrolment numbers only about 5% of students earned an official statement of accomplishment. In contrast, out of the students who registered for ‘Signature Track’ scheme, paying US$30-60, with the intention of obtaining an identity verified and university branded certification, the completion rates are much higher. It shows that intention to participate in a MOOC has a great bearing on the outcome (completion, dropout or anything in between).

There are various reasons why people participate in MOOCs: to audit, out of curiosity, interest of subject, etc. MOOCs can be seen as an opportunity for risk free exploration of a subject of interest. For example, I am registered in a FutureLearn MOOC on 'Introduction to Forensic Science' that will be starting in early January 2014. I don't think I would have paid to take up a course in this subject, which is far from relevant to the work I do at the moment, though I have an interest in it. So for me, this MOOC will give a chance to learn something I like but without the burden of paying for classes and committing to it. By that I mean, if I have change of circumstance (kids being poorly or too much stuff at work) there is always the option to not do the MOOC. What I wanted to show is that (at least for me) the engagement contract in a MOOC and a traditional (or even eLearning) course is different. So can the traditional definition of 'dropout' applied in a MOOC environment?

These are some of the questions we are exploring in an ongoing research on MOOC Participants' perspectives. One of our papers on 'Dropout', which presents work in progress is now accepted for the EMOOCs 2014, the Second MOOC European Stakeholders Summit, to be held on February 10-12, 2014 in Lausanne (Switzerland). If you are attending the EMOOCs conference I will see you there, if not you can read more about our work in my blog.


  1. Hi Tharindu
    Thought you might be interested in some stats from a recent course I took on Coursera. I'm afraid the numbers are approximate but that's just how they were presented to us by the course team.
    The course was "Intro to Social Psychology". Not particularly difficult (this was my first psychology course) but there was a lot of material to get through.

    - over 242K enrolled
    - over 100K active in first week
    - nearly 8K attempted final exam
    - around 6.5K received Statement of Accomplishment

    I guess those kinds of percentages would be regarded as a failure on a traditional course - but "Intro to Social Psych"was a great course.
    Really interesting material, an enthusiastic course team (very active on the forums), great videos, Google hangouts, engaging assignments and very lively discussion forums.
    For what it's worth I really don't think it makes any sense to apply the term "dropout" to MOOC courses. At least, not until someone comes up with a completely new definition of the term :-)

    1. Thanks Moira for this information. That is exactly the point.