If on campus university courses would have the drop-out rate of Moocs they would be considered an utter failure. There are of course a lot of valid reasons why you would expect the amount of drop-outs to be way higher in a MOOC then in an on campus course but still the drop-out is impressive. It has been suggested that it is maybe best “to focus on the hundreds who complete them and what their data teaches us about how people learn“.
To me that seems like a waste but that is maybe a topic for a different post, for now lets focus on the effect of focussing on students that finish a MOOC in order to gain a better understanding of “how people learn”. The first remark that should be made is that analyzing this does not learn us a lot about how people learn but tells us something about how people who are able to finish a MOOC learn. The sketchy information that is available about that suggests that MOOCs are finished by the usual suspects: “Course completers typically held a Bachelor’s degree or higher” If that is the case for most MOOCs then we should be very aware that the findings of such research cannot be translated to the general population of learners.
In their article about fully guided instruction, Richard E. Clark, Paul A. Kirschner and John Sweller made perfectly clear that there is a big distinction between the learning of novices and experts. Where novice to intermediate learners learn best when there is full guidance during instruction, experts “often thrive without much guidance”. So when we analyze the (most effective) learning of course completers in a MOOC our findings are skewed because we see the learning of experts. Translating those findings to the general population of learners would again ignore the well researched fact that novice to intermediate learners learn best from fully guided instruction.
To make matters worse: In the same article by Clark et al it is also explained that less skilled learners tend to prefer less guided instruction “even though they learn less from it”. This seems to be the case because the fully guided instruction forces them to “engage in explicit attention driven effort” Which they tend to dislike. So in evaluation MOOCs there is a double pitfall first we could mistakenly think that the succesful way of learning from the course completers is transferable to the whole population of learners and secondly if we were to asks the drop-outs of the MOOCs if they like the expert approach they would most likely agree even if in reality it would negative for their learning.
To make matters even more worse: Among educators there seems to be a tendency to prefer the less guided instruction model also for novice and intermediate learners. It is not entirely clear why. One explanation could be that they “confuse constructivism which is a theory about how one learns with a prescription for how to teach”. Alternatively one could think that developing fully guided instruction is more work than developing less guided instruction and that that is the explanation why it is preferred by educators.
This also raises the question how open, open education really is. Is it only open in the sense that everybody can enrol or is it also open in the sense that everybody can complete? For me that is the real issue are MOOCs just another means to serve the same population that is already privileged or is it really something new that can also serve learners that until now have no or limited access to higher education?