Massive study on MOOCs (Harvard Gazette)

Harvard, MIT report provides new insights on an evolving space

April 1, 2015

[full story here.]

Since “Year of the MOOC” became a catchphrase in 2012, massive open online courses have had their fans and detractors. Some have claimed that online learning is a “disruptive revolution” and a harbinger of the end of residential colleges, while others have called MOOCs at best “mere marketing” or at worst an abject failure, singling out low completion rates.

Expanded data and research about MOOC participants and evidence-based assessments of online learning trends might, however, begin to move the conversation beyond anecdotes and heated opinions.

Today, a joint Harvard and MIT research team published one of the largest investigations of MOOCs (massive open online courses) to date. Building on their prior work — a January 2014 report describing the first year of open online courses launched on edX, a nonprofit learning platform founded by the two institutions — the latest effort incorporates another year of data, bringing the total to nearly 70 courses in subjects from programming to poetry.

“We explored 68 certificate-granting courses, 1.7 million participants, 10 million participant-hours, and 1.1 billion participant-logged events,” said the study’s co-lead author, Andrew Ho, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and chair of the HarvardX research committee. The research team also used surveys to ­gain additional information about participants’ backgrounds and intentions.

Ho and MIT’s Isaac Chuang, professor of physics, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and senior associate director of digital learning, led a group effort that delved into the demographics of MOOC learners, analyzed participant intent, and looked at patterns that “serial MOOCers,” or those taking more than one course, tend to pursue.

“What jumped out for me was the survey that revealed that in some cases as many as 39 percent of our learners are teachers,” said Chuang. “This finding forces us to broaden our conceptions of who MOOCs serve and how they might make a difference in improving learning.”

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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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