I was a drop-in, not a lurker!

I used to feel guilty until I did the research- the new fad is to drop-out. Last year I took the online MOOC Gamification on Coursera. It was taught by a famous professor from the Wharton School of Business. And it was free! I signed up a month before and eagerly awaited the opening of the class. The first day I downloaded the courseware and was happy that each week I could download the video lectures to study at my convenience. I soon discovered it was a business based class, rather than one teaching how to apply gamification to make something. I missed the third weeks lecture. By the fifth week I felt too far behind to catch up. Besides, I was busy at work and with my family. Besides, it was only a free class. Besides…

It ends up I wasn’t the only one who dropped out. The Chronicle of Higher Education estimates MOOC completion rate of Coursera is about 10%. Other studies show MOOC completion rates overall are around 13%. This statistic challenges the 8% who keep New Year’s resolutions, but way behind the 50 who drop out from exercise programs.

What do the experts say? Ry Harva discusses Measuring the MOOC Dropout Rate in the March 8, 2013 Inside Higher Education. It doesn’t seem logical that a prestigious university that had a 17% admission rate in 2013 would have 97% drop-out rate for a free online class that it offered. But only 350 out of 12,700 students who registered for a bioelectricity MOOC Duke offered through Coursera took the final exam. Furthermore, the course lost a fourth of its students before it began.

Now that I am assured that I am a normal MOOC statistic, why? As the course too easy or too difficult? It was not too difficult for someone with a bachelors degree. The material was dense, with many new definitions and concepts. It was deeper learning than a Wikipedia article, of course. The facilitator was a professor who had written a leading book on the subject, so was knowledgable. The coursework was not overwhelming, each of the 10 week classes was chunked into five 3-15 minute lectures with mastery quizzes sprinkled in between. The homework was not overwhelming- besides the mastery quizzes, a paper was to be written and peer-graded by the fourth class, a second paper by the 8th class, and a final exam in the 10th week.

The problem wasn’t the difficulty, rather, that it was too much like school! For being a leading way of learning, it was too much like a classroom course online. There was little interactive content. The personality of the facilitator was a bit flat. And the content was too dense for someone auditing the class or just dropping in to see what it was about. Besides, I wanted to learn how to apply gamification to make something. That was not an option in the course.

Am I able to use the skills from the class? Somewhat. I can define and recognize gamification and understand its role in business and marketing. But reading the book that accompanied the course could have taught me that.

What stood out was that the fourth lecture looked low-budget. The set and quality of sound had diminished. This gave it a slap-dashed feeling, like it was rushed to market. That was when I decided that many of these famous companies don’t know much when it comes to developing interesting and engaging educational materials. It seems the safeness of education had won out rather than interesting and experimental breakthroughs.

When we look at events that attract the numbers that MOOCs do we can compare it to sporting events, a convention, or a code-a-thon. Here people are together for a shorter amount of time for a purpose. There is a buzz about attending the event. The participants themselves are dreaming and creating the specialness of the event together. This phenomenon is explained by Symbolic Convergence Theory.

If a MOOC could channel the excitement that motivates events, or the human connections that a traditional classroom has then they would become popular and have staying power. But it seems that accountants, lawyers and boring education leaders will keep this from happening! Instead we have to turn to the world of education aps to find interesting delivery, as most MOOCs aim to follow a traditional course syllabus and only have widely accessible as their innovation.

Guess I may as well get a tattoo and grow a beard and start joining some other fads like MOOC drop-out.


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