5 Things Researchers Have Discovered About MOOCs (Chronicle)

June 27, 2014 by 
[blog post here]

In December 2013 a group of academics gathered during a Texas snowstorm and began the second phase of a discussion about massive open online courses. They were not terribly impressed by the hype the courses had received in the popular media, and they had set out to create a better body of literature about MOOCs—albeit a less sensational one.

The MOOC Research Initiative, backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had given many of those academics research grants to study what was going on in the online courses. Now the organization has posted preliminary findings from some of those research projects.

The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed and should not be generalized, but they do represent some of the most rigorous analysis to date on MOOCs. Following is a synopsis of the more interesting findings. For wonkier interpretations of the data, you can find the researchers’ own summaries here.

1. If you are isolated, poor, and enamored of the prestigious university offering the MOOC you’re taking, you are less likely to complete it.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Teachers College asked students to rate their reasons for registering for “Big Data in Education,” a MOOC the university offered through Coursera. Students who said they were “geographically isolated from educational institutions,” “cannot afford to pursue a formal education,” and were motivated because the “course is offered by a prestigious university” were less likely than others to finish the course.

2. Coaching students to have a healthier mindset about learning may not help in a MOOC.

3. Paired with the right incentives, MOOCs can help prepare at-risk students for college-level work.

4. Discussion forums in MOOCs are healthy places for the few students who use them.

5. We still do not know if doing well in MOOCs will help underprivileged learners become upwardly mobile.

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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