Confusion lurks behind online course completion rates

Online education experts fear that abysmal massive open online course (MOOC) completion rates could confuse the public about the quality of more traditional web-based classes as in-person college courses continue to sport the highest rates of completion.

On-campus completion rates were about 3-5 percent higher in 2013 than their online counterparts, according to findings in the annual “Managing Online Education” survey released by WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies.

completionEighty-one percent of students completed in-person classes and 78 percent finished online courses.

An examination of institutions that provide both online and on-campus classes showed that the traditional courses had a five point edge, according to the national survey.

The report’s authors pointed to the publicity of consistently low MOOC completion rates — often less than 10 percent — as causing potential confusion about the viability of online education, even though almost eight in 10 students complete traditional web-based classes.

“With the rise of MOOCs, the issue of course completion has risen in visibility,” the WICHE report authors wrote.

Coursera, one of the best-known MOOC platforms, has reported that 1 in 20 students who sign up for a Coursera MOOC “earned a credential signifying official completion of the course,” according to WICHE.

Only two in 10 Coursera students submitted a class assignment after signing up for a MOOC. Half of students who signed up for a Coursera MOOC returned for the course’s first lecture.

“Some have confused MOOC completion rates with those of ‘traditional’ online courses,” the report said. “These results show that online course completion rates track more closely with those in of on-campus courses than is found in MOOCs.”

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