‘We don’t know what drives these learners’

Texas universities increasingly are opening up classes to anyone with an email address and an internet connection, even as they struggle to measure learner success and gain insight into the unseen millions logging on to learn.

learner-moocsFew students who register for massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are finishing them.

Completion rates at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, have ranged up to just 13 percent, officials said. At Rice University, between 5 percent and 8 percent of registrants finished their courses, the school reported.

Still, these figures are not indicators the experiment in broad-scale online learning is failing, educators said.

“We don’t know what drives these learners,” said Caroline Levander, Rice University’s vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives and digital education. “Assuming that completion is the metric of success doesn’t seem fair or reasonable. It’s too early to know what success will mean for this group of learners.”

Rice, one of the earliest schools to offer post-secondary education to a worldwide audience, is involved with two MOOC providers — EdX and Coursera.

Without educator support, ‘there is no hope’ for MOOCs

The University of Houston will begin offering courses through a non-exclusive relationship with Coursera later this spring.

A key reason for the low completion rates reported is the low bar for MOOC entry. Students might pay $1,000 to take a traditional college course. They have skin in the game.

By contrast, anyone with an email address and internet connection can join a massive open online course.

After enrollment, students can participate at their pleasure. Few fully engage to read assignments, write papers, collaborate in study groups and submit projects, experts say.

Still, according to educators, there’s merit in every stage of MOOC engagement for teaching and learning.

“When you have 80,000 students taking a test, you get to see, at scale, what’s working and what’s not,” Levander said. “There’s a huge data analytics opportunity here. I think a lot of schools are interested in that.”

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