MOOC open online courses

Harvard and MIT release new trends report on open online courses


Research findings offer new insights into learner engagement and behavior from four years of HarvardX and MITx MOOCs.

HarvardX and MITx: Four Years of Open Online Courses” provides key insights on learner engagement in HarvardX and MITx courses launched between the fall of 2012 and the summer of 2016. Jointly published by the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Research Committee at Harvard and MIT’s Office of Digital Learning, the new report features findings in a number of key areas:

Cumulative Trends in Participation and Certification

Cumulative unique and overall MOOC participation has grown steadily over four years of MITx and HarvardX course production. During this four-year period, 2.4 million unique users participated in one or more MITx or HarvardX open online courses, and 245,000 learner certificates were issued upon successfully completing a course. Among 662,000 participants who accessed at least half of course content, the median certification rate was shown to be 36 percent.  On average, 1,554 new, unique participants enrolled per day over four years. A typical MOOC certificate earner spends 29 hours interacting with online courseware.

Course Participation and Demographics

The report also finds participants in a MOOC “classroom” are heterogeneous in background and intention. A typical HarvardX or MITx course or module certifies 500 learners—with 7,900 learners accessing some course content after registering, and around 1,500 choosing to explore half or more of a course’s content. Demographic statistics of note include a median learner age of 29 years old, a two-to-one male-to-female ratio (67 percent male, 33 percent female), and significant participation from learners in other countries (71 percent international, 29 percent from the U.S.). In addition, computer science and STEM courses were seen to comprise younger, less female, more international, and less college-educated participants than other courses.

Flow of Participants Between Courses

Tracking participants who enroll in multiple courses over time can reveal networks among courses and curricular areas. The new report found MITx and HarvardX computer science courses are the “hubs” of the MOOC curricular network.  These courses are the largest (compared to science, history, health, and other subjects) and route more participants to other disciplinary areas than they receive.

Teachers as Course Participants

Learners in HarvardX or MITx courses were also asked to complete two survey items intended to capture the broadest sense of teacher and instructor identity among MOOC participants. The new study found strong levels of participation from this cohort, with 32 percent of respondents self-identifying as “being” or “having been” a teacher. Of this group, 19 percent said they instructed on the same topic as the online course in which they participated, and 16 percent achieved course certification (more than twice the rate seen throughout the entire HarvardX/MITx learner population).

Data appendices enabling replication of many of the new report’s analyses, as well as many additional analyses, are also available online.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

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