Completion Rates Aren’t the Best Way to Judge MOOCs, Researchers Say

January 22, 2014 by

When it comes to measuring the success of an education program, the bottom line is often the completion rate. How many students are finishing their studies and walking away with a credential?

But that is not the right way to judge massive open online courses, according to researchers at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Course certification rates are misleading and counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses,” write the researchers in the first of a series of working papers on MOOCs offered by the two universities. (The Harvard papers can be found here, the MIT papers here.)

Released on Tuesday, the papers make good on a pledge by Harvard and MIT in 2012, when the universities teamed up to create edX, a nonprofit provider of massive open online courses. At the time, the presidents of the two universities said their foray into online instruction would include a major research project aimed at learning more about online courses, especially the kind that they and other exclusive universities had started making available free.

The papers released on Tuesday draw on data from 17 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT in 2012 and 2013. A number of academics have begun studying aspects of the MOOC phenomenon, but few academic papers have been published so far. Read more.