Category Archives: Completion rate

When are MOOCs truly massive?

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By Darco Jansen, Programme Manager at EADTU

The ECO project (ECO: Elearning, Communication and Open-data: Massive Mobile, Ubiquitous and Open Learning) provides MOOCs in many European languages. This can be in English but also in Portuguese, French, German, Italian, etc. In the end, ECO want to activate teachers all over Europe to develop their own MOOCs in their own language suitable for their own local context and culture. This raises the question on the massive component of MOOCs. I.e. how many participants are needed to call an online course a MOOC?

To define a MOOC Wikipedia in their definition uses “aimed at unlimited number of participants“. But that may cause problems if the numbers go a lot higher than your technological resources can handle. Next, we also need to take into account the teacher time, i.e. the efforts of academic staff on pay-roll of institution offering the course. As MOOCs are for free it cannot rely heavily on teacher time.

Is there a critial Number of enrollments?

But how many enrolments should a course have to be called a MOOC? The record of number of enrolments for a MOOC until now is 226.652. But that is for a MOOC in the English language. We need to take into account that the number of people speaking good English: 480 million (330 million native + 150 million secondary, source Wikipedia. As such the record MOOC only targets about 0,047%.

Now take a European language less spoken: Lithuanian, with 4.8 million native speakers (3.5 – 4 million source: Lingvo). In order to be as successful as the record-holding MOOC in English, a Lithuanian course should have encompass ca. 2.267 participants. But typically a MOOC in the English language nowadays has about 5.000-50.000. So a typical MOOC in Lithuanian should have about 50 to 500 participants. Ofcourse this strongly depends on other factors as topic, demographic background (people with already a degree), etc.

Should we aim for an unlimited number of participants?

Consequently in the European context we need to be cautious about to fact that a course should be aiming at unlimited number of participants. For that reason the ECO project, together with the HOME project and OpenupEd, proposes that such a course should be designed for large number of participants. Operational criteria for MOOCs could be:

  • Number of participants is larger than can be taught in a ‘normal’ campus class room / college situation (>148 = Dunbar’s ratio)
  • The (pedagogical model of the) course is such that the efforts of all services (including of academic staff on tutoring, tests, etc.) does not increase significantly as the number of participants increases.

Hence, we should grab the opportunities offered by MOOCs and not overley focus on large volumes as observed with MOOCs in the English language. Alternatively we  need to focus on the opportunities that open and online learning movement offer as a means to educate many, ubiquitously in a flexible way, complying with the needs of today’s learners.

Tags: MOOC, massive, enrolments, definition

Even online students need to feel part of a group

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ECO has set high standards when it comes to pass rates for students on their MOOCs. One of the challenges we face in online learning is the high drop-out rate. In this phase of our own internet evolution, users are becoming more and more conscious of how they can scan the internet, scout, sign up, but also opt-out. To truly engage online is quite a task that keeps the minds occupied of many commercially orientated internet players, like retailers. Some succeed, some are less productive, however it is not always necessary to have 100% engaged users. With only 10% of potential customers retaining their attention on just 1 product, will probably satisfy the needs of the busines model.

In online education it is hardly imaginable that superficially engaged users or temporarily engaged users will result in sustainable learning. So how do you create a motivation that lasts for at least several weeks the students spends online? Will it be money he or she spends? No, because the MOOCs that we offer within the project´s 3 year time frame will be freely accessible by anyone within the European Union. Will it be quality? Although we believe that we will offer the highest possible quality, we understand that that in itself does not create a prerequisite for engagement.

In our consortium´s Document of Work (DOW) the words ´social channels´ and ´social inclusion´ appear a number of times, the latter referring to including to including social groups into the student group who otherwise would not have access to these teachings in a physical classroom. Students who are in a hospital for instance or students that live in remote areas or cannot leave their home.

In their article ´Even in a MOOC, Students Want to Belong´* by Lisa Thomas and James Herbert published on September 4 on the Australian website and thought leadership platform Social Science Space, the authors comment on social inclusion as an motivational component in online learning. The researched what matters to students in an online context to keep them focused and engaged in their learning process and ” found that “sense of belonging” was one aspect deemed to be important.” The authors go on to investigate what elements the course in itself should contain ranging from debate options, to embedding collaborative asigments part of the course and assessment. Additionally the teacher has a possibility to create a certain outreach directly to students by means of “electronic office hours and `[…], creating announcements”.

The authors recap their research by stating that online courses must not necesarrily force the social cohesion strategy upon students who prefer just to stick to the course content. This part of the potential student population may in fact not be in need of the sense of belonging to stick to the course and gear up the course completion rate. Or possibly they are in part the ones who will drop out eventually.

Whatever the reason, at ECO we need to provide answers and counter measures for all potential scenarios and not forget the teacher for that matter either.

*Source: http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2014/09/even-in-a-mooc-students-want-to-belong