In 2012, education startups attracted millions of students—and a surge of interest from universities and the media—by offering massive open online courses, or MOOCs, MIT Technology Review reports. Now some core features of these wildly popular courses are being dissected, enabling the course providers to do some learning of their own. As these companies analyze user data and experiment with different features, they are exploring how to customize students’ learning experiences, and they are amassing a stock of pedagogical tricks to help more students finish their courses. “The data we are collecting is unprecedented in education,” says Andrew Ng, a cofounder of MOOC provider Coursera and an associate professor at Stanford University. “We see every mouse click and keystroke. We know if a user clicks one answer and then selects another, or fast-forwards through part of a video.” …  Some recent findings have vindicated aspects of MOOCs’  design. Princeton researchers used data from Coursera to show that the company’s system of peer grading, which calculates grades for coursework based on feedback provided by other students, is effective. Other findings have challenged assumptions about how an online course can successfully cater to hundreds of thousands of students or more. Since MOOCs first appeared, bite-sized videos have provided the bulk of the teaching, accompanied by online assessments and exercises to help cement the content in students’ minds.

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