Are students ‘too busy’ for MOOCs?

Sixty-eight percent of students who failed to complete a MOOC said a main reason was that they were “too busy.”

MOOCs are often championed for their accessibility, their convenience, and their engaging use of video lectures. So why, with retention rates hovering between 5 and 10 percent, do students have such trouble actually getting through a course?

According to a survey released by Instructure, the education technology company behind the learning management system Canvas, MOOC students may just be too busy.

“The popularity of MOOCs shows an appetite for learning in the open online format, but these courses are competing for attention in an age of digital entertainment and social media,” said Misty Frost, Instructure’s chief marketing officer. “Simply replicating the lecture model of instruction in a MOOC doesn’t facilitate the educational experience needed to sustain engagement.”

The study was conducted by Instructure and the research software company Qualtrics, and surveyed 1,834 people who registered for one of Canvas’ MOOCs.

About 700 of them had just enrolled in a course, while 1,138 had participated in concluded courses.

Of the 1,138 participants, 68 percent of those who did not complete the course said a main reason for not finishing was that they were “too busy.” Twenty-nine percent of those participants said being too busy was the primary reason for failing to complete a MOOC.

See Page 2 for what students say would help motivate them to finish a MOOC.

While the survey revealed that course topic is a major motivator among 35 percent of MOOC participants, students also noted a lack of incentive.

The courses are rarely offered for real college credit and many do not offer certificates of completion – at least not for free, which, for many students, is a MOOC’s main draw.

Three in four participants said the fact that MOOCs do not cost anything was an important factor for enrolling in one. Two-thirds of respondents said they would be more likely to complete a MOOC if the course offered a certificate or transferable college credit.

The study also suggests that peer engagement is important in a student’s MOOC success. Nearly a quarter of participants who completed a course said they were “highly engaged in course discussions with fellow participants.”

Out of those who failed to complete a course, only 3 percent said they were engaged with their peers.

“This study confirms that for MOOCs to be a relevant part of education’s future, they must offer a more compelling experience than the traditional college course,” Frost said.

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