Friday, April 26, 2013

Time is not a valid reason for low MOOC completion rate

We asked students who completed several of our previous MOOCs (Power Searching and Advanced Power Searching with Google) why they didn't complete the course. The most frequently selected answer, nearly 70% of self-selected survey completers, was "not enough time," which was much more frequently selected than alternatives like "class was too difficult" or "problems with technology." This corresponds with what I've been reading and hearing about MOOCs (like this non-scientific article in OpenCulture).

I believe that when someone says they don't have time for something, it really means that they did not find that activity valuable enough to prioritize it over other activities. If I say I don't have time to call my grandmother, it's not because I don't have time. It's because I'd rather play a few extra rounds of Candy Crush. I prioritize tasks based on their inherent value to me. Relaxing with some casual games almost always seems more fun than writing blog posts. I don't play games while I'm at work, though, not because I don't have time, but because I prioritize getting my work done instead of risking the consequences.

Implications for MOOC instructional design

  • Communicate how long you expect students will spend in your course. (I am guilty of seriously underestimating how long it will take students to complete assignments. For Advanced Power Searching, I even said in the intro video, "We estimate that you could complete this course in three hours." We found via anecdotes that some students took ten to twelve hours to complete a single challenge.)
  • Communicate the benefits to the students early and often. What will they be expected to do differently after the course? Will they earn a certificate? If so, what's the value of the certificate?
  • Make the course as flexible as possible. If students don't want to sit through seven hours of lectures, can they jump directly to the end of course projects? Can they complete activities without watching videos? Can they choose the content that is relevant to them? 

Areas of future research
I'd like to know, when students say, "I didn't have time to complete this course," what they really meant. Did they mean, "I had more important obligations," or "I didn't see the value in completing it," or "It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be?"