My 0.02 on MOOCs

A recent review of MOOC stats at has me thinking about the promise of this next-big-thing in online education.

  • 53,205 students enrolled in a graduate-level Coursera class called Computational Investing, Part I
  • 2,535 completed the course by doing all the assignments. That’s a 4.8% completion rate.
  • A 17 year old completed the class. So did a 74 year old. Pretty awesome.

Now, clearly with a buzz-worthy, not to mention free, idea, you’re going to get lots of  takers. They click “Sign Me Up” to see what’s going on and never go any further. They really don’t know what “computational investing” means, let alone that it’s post-graduate material. I’m not surprised that 11% of course completers hold Ph.D.s.

But if my course completion rate were below 5%–heck, if it were below 80%–I would be in big trouble. What’s an appropriate percentage for a free MOOC? If the content is engaging, how many people reasonably should be expected to finish everything?

Engaging content is probably key. Computational Investing clearly attracted a white, male, American audience: 91% of completers were men and almost 70% were Caucasian. Even among those who finished the work, satisfaction rates weren’t impressive. Here are some stats as reported in Tucker Balch’s blog post:

  • The course materials were presented in an engaging manner: 57.0%
  • I found the course personally fulfilling: 59.0%
  • I learned what I was hoping to learn in this course: 42.8%

Again, if my end-of-semester course evaluations were this low, I’d be in trouble. This feedback from students who stuck it out suggests that non-completers possibly found the class even less engaging or fulfilling.

MOOCs likely need to be MORE engaging, interactive, and compelling than traditional online classes, for which students pay thousands of dollars. Students who need the credit will plough through boring, confusing discussion forums. Students who are just doing something for personal enrichment need a rich environment to keep their attention.

Just my 0.02.

For what it’s worth, to put my pennies where my blogging is, last week I signed up for my first Coursera class: Critical Thinking in Global Challenges from the University of Edinburgh. I’ll probably be blogging about my experiences in the next few weeks.



2 thoughts on “My 0.02 on MOOCs

    1. swakefield Post author

      True. But only 18% of the students who took a quiz ended up finishing the course. 39% of students who did the work for the first project completed the course. There’s still a long way to go before universities like mine, which get funded on completion rates, can seriously consider a MOOC.


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