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.

A joint research team from Harvard University and MIT today announced the release of a comprehensive report on learner engagement and behavior in 290 massive open online courses (MOOCs).

Building on their prior work – 2014 and 2015 benchmark reports describing the first two years of open online courses launched on edX, a non-profit learning platform co-founded by the two institutions – the team’s new study reviews four years of data and represents one of the largest surveys of MOOCs: spanning 290 MIT and Harvard online courses, a quarter-million certifications, 4.5 million participants and 28 million participant-hours.

The report is the latest product stemming from a collaborative, cross-institutional research effort led by Isaac Chuang, MIT Senior Associate Dean of Digital Learning and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Professor of Physics, and Andrew Ho, Chair of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL) Research Committee and Professor of Education at Harvard. The group’s four years of research aims to address questions about the evolution of the MOOC movement, building upon findings from previous reports.

“Strong collaboration has enabled MIT and Harvard to jointly examine nearly thirty million hours of online learner behavior and the growth of the MOOC space,” said Isaac Chuang  MIT senior associate dean of Digital Learning and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Professor of Physics. “Our latest report features data from four full years of MITx and HarvardX courses, exploring in-depth information on demographics and behavior of course participants.”

“Each year, we release a report so that everyone can see the data for themselves,” said Andrew Ho, research committee chair for Harvard’s Vice Provost for Advances in Learning.  “We hope it helps institutions, faculty, students, and the public learn more about these unprecedented global classrooms.”

“This reporting series continues to provide the benchmark for understanding the MOOC ecosystem created by Harvard and MIT,” said Dustin Tingley, faculty director of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Research Team and Professor of Government at Harvard.

(Next page: The report and its findings)

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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