More people are turning to MOOCs, or massive open online courses, to pursue alternative credentials and build new skills.
Yet skepticism about the value of MOOCs persists, argues Amy Ahearn, an online course instructional designer, for EdSurge.
The skepticism stems from concerns about MOOC completion rates, which usually hover between 5% and 15%, according to one estimate. Critics typically point to these low completion rates as proof that the medium is unsuccessful compared to in-person courses, which have higher completion rates, explains Ahearn.
But this argument is flawed because online learning and in-person courses are so different, she explains.
Completion isn’t the best metric for evaluating MOOCs, because few MOOC users enroll in online courses with the goal of earning the certificate or completing the programs. In reality, people consume MOOCs more like digital content rather than traditional college seminars, Ahearn argues.
Many MOOC users sign up, download readings, and share insights with their team—without completing or uploading assignments, according to surveys from Stanford University and +Acumen. And post-course surveys and qualitative interviews reveal that many online learners use MOOCs to complete specific learning goals or are not motivated to earn a certificate, writes Ahearn. In fact, only 35% of students who start a MOOC certificate program intend to earn that credential.
Given how busy most workers are, it makes sense that online learners only consume the information relevant to their work, writes Ahearn. Just as we don’t blame people for skimming an article, we shouldn’t blame online learners for dropping in and out MOOCs, she argues.
To accurately evaluate MOOC success, educators need to ask better questions that measure MOOC performance against other types of digital content, like email campaigns or podcasts.
Ahearn recommends that higher ed leaders ask these questions about their MOOCs in 2019:
– What are the total site visits?
– What is the bounce rate?
– What is the average time on site?
– What is the number of daily active users?
– What is the number of monthly active users?
– What is the Net Promoter Score?
Colleges should still ask what the completion rate is, but they should compare the results to analogous digital content, not in-person courses, argues Ahearn.
Colleges like Kennesaw State University (KSU) already look beyond completion rates to measure the success of their MOOCs.
To calculate MOOC success, KSU evaluated the unique marketing opportunity the online course presented. The school measured video-streaming views, unique viewers, material downloads, and course completions. They also tracked the number of registrants, certificates awarded, portfolio submissions, program applications, and enrollments at the credit-awarding level.
MOOC students “were left with lasting digital impressions, branding, and reach beyond expectation, and notable benefit to the university, college, faculty and students,” according to KSU’s report (Ahearn, EdSurge, 11/28).