What Type of MOOC Student Are You?

A new study by Cornell and Stanford supports the idea that MOOC completion rates are poor measurements of course success and that dividing MOOC participants into just “completers” and “dropouts” provides an incomplete picture of what students are actually doing in the courses.

The researchers investigated the engagement patterns of more than 300,000 Coursera students and devised a “taxonomy of engagement” that divides MOOC participants into five different types:

1. Bystanders. Bystanders are students who register but don’t engage much. They may never log in at all, or they may poke around, but then disappear.

2. Collectors. Collectors are students who mainly just download the lectures but don’t participate much in the course.

3. Viewers. Viewers are students who watch the lectures but don’t do many of the assignments.

4. Solvers. Solvers do the assigned work but don’t necessarily watch the lectures.

5. All-Rounders. Finally, all-rounders achieve a balance of watching lectures and doing assignments.

These findings indicate there is more than one way to “complete” a MOOC and that any meaningful evaluation of MOOCs must take more than just completion into account. In fact, completion isn’t considered as a defining feature of any of these student types.

The idea of completion rates being inadequate isn’t new, particularly to anyone who has actually taken a MOOC. One of the advantages of this type of education is that it allows students to personalize their experience by picking and choosing the information that is relevant to them. This is particularly advantageous for MOOC students who are taking the courses to update their current job skills or learn new ones—they can access the content they need, when they need it, without having to commit to an entire course or even a full module.

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