MOOC sentences to ponder, and the law of demand still holds

“What jumped out for me was the survey that revealed that in some cases as many as 39 percent of our learners are teachers,”

There are two ways to view this.  One is that educators are simply talking to each other.  The alternative — more likely in my view — is that on-line and face-to-face education are in fact complements, but also that our educators know much less than they sometimes let on.  They need MOOCs to learn the material, or more optimistically to improve their presentations of it.

And how is this for the law of demand?:

Across 12 courses, participants who paid for “ID-verified” certificates (with costs ranging from $50 to $250) earned certifications at a higher rate than other participants: 59 percent, on average, compared with 5 percent. Students opting for the ID-verified track appear to have stronger intentions to complete courses, and the monetary stake may add an extra form of motivation.

I’ve long thought the standard meme “Only [small number goes here] percent of starters complete free MOOCS” was a weak argument.  This shows you why.

The piece discusses other interesting results as well.

Comments

I suspect those who become professors are lovers of learning, and that might be affecting things here. I'm currently in an MBA program, and most of my follow students admit they are mostly concerned with the degree rather than the education.

I think this is common of MBA programs though, which in my (admittedly limited) experience are viewed as very expensive, certified networking programs. I don't know anyone who is working on or completed an MBA in order to learn and be more effective at their job, it was always a pathway for promotion.

I'm doing my MBA now as well and agree with you to a point. For all of the sponsored consultants and PE people who are going back, it's two years to have fun and a promotion later on. Selectivity signaling of an MBA is also a decent reason to enroll in an in person program. The most compelling reason, I think, is two years on your resume that you don't have to explain and a free pass to take courses at a great university in whatever departments.

There are effective academic ways to use your time in a business program... You might just have to take some classes outside of the business school.

Dan: Or at least they are lovers of classes, tests, and certified accomplishments. Not that those are necessarily bad.

If I see a quiz or class about the period table or the US presidents, I'm likely to take it, to see if there is something in there I don't know.

I think that MOOCs will move schools to more of directing students, testing students, tutoring students (working one on one) and less of teaching.

> "the monetary stake may add an extra form of motivation"

Sunk costs.

It's a well known fallacy because so many people think that way.

I do some colleague mentoring as part of my job, and I frequently take to the web when someone asks me a question I hadn't encountered before. My grad school (engineering) covered all of the general cases and most of the common specific cases, but not EVERY POSSIBLE case. I find that MOOC course content often refreshes or sufficiently fills a gap in knowledge that lets me eventually get the right answer.

"I’ve long thought the standard meme “Only [small number goes here] percent of starters complete free MOOCS” was a weak argument. This shows you why."

I'm not sure what you see as weak about the argument. The claimed revolutionary impact of MOOCs is that they would supply a world-class educational experience for much lower cost. They are going to put brick-and-mortar colleges out of business, right? The counterargument, then, is that MOOCs are not very effective because very few complete them. To flesh out the argument further, isn't it possible that MOOCs will only be effective in terms of both course completion and student learning if the courses are similarly priced to brick-and-mortar courses? It may be that a large part of the cost of education comes from the signal it sends for students to take it seriously. If so, MOOCs may end up being much less transformative than originally hoped.

MOOCs aren't going to be distruptive/transformative/whatever and have relatively high completion rates until completing a MOOC actually means something in the eye of an employer or other educational institution. Right now, they don't, so most of the incentive to complete one is simply because you want to learn the material.

The sheepskin effect is a different issue than completion rates. I personally think low completion rates should be expected and are not inherently a bad thing overall - one of the great things about MOOCs vs. brick-and-mortar classes is the ease of "shopping" for classes. To check out a MOOC you have to enroll, so of course those masses of people just curious enough to look at the site drive down completion rates.

Isn't the likely reason that teachers are just interested in checking out the "next big thing" in teaching? Your posited explanation seems a little too self-congratulatory.

1. Teachers, the certified school system kind, get paid directly for continuing education. Paid for completing classes, not for learning anything.

2. MOOCS could be seen as a way of learning something. If this is one's goal, the last test and certification is superfluous. How did you learn to weld? From 90 minutes three times a week until Certified, or from fixing things your whole life, buying the tools and supplies, asking at the shop, and hmmm, checking out an online course for that new TIG, but just until you figured out what was not working.....

People who argue that MOOCs aren't transformative because a low percentage of students complete them are missing the point. The percentage of people who go to college and voluntarily learn something (this is NOT the same as attending a class - I mean actually learning) is already low. Probably not as low as the MOOC completion rate, but not by as much as people think.

The difference is that with a MOOC now anyone who wants to learn something can just do it - no admissions office, no worrying about the class filling up before you can register, no worrying about scheduling time off from work to attend. It's just there, ready to be learned. Those who don't want to take the course or don't feel like finishing it aren't preventing anyone else from learning, so what's the problem?

The problem is in believing that MOOCs are transformative. The casual, take-it-because-I-want-to-learn-something MOOC consumer is doing the same thing that we all do when we buy a (non-fiction) book -- trying to learn a little something. MOOCs are animated interactive books.

Which is fine, and no problem. Until would-be transformers come along (Kevin Carey is the most recent egregious would-be transformer, with his new book The End of College) proclaiming that MOOCs mean that traditional bricks-and-mortar education is obsolete. But MOOCs cannot and will not replace bricks-and-mortar schools, no more than books did.

MOOCs could also try a system where the fee includes a component that's refunded on completion.

The refund could be any amount up to 100% of the enrollment fee – or even more, if the fees of dropouts are redistributed to finishers.

Then it's not really 'sunk cost fallacy' in play, but an actual self-financed commitment-device – like stickK or a sort of 'academic assurance contract'.

"I’ve long thought the standard meme 'Only [small number goes here] percent of starters complete free MOOCS' was a weak argument. This shows you why."

But if the vast majority of MOOC users enroll in free courses, and it's only a small, unusually motivated minority that enroll in paid ones, which seems plausible, then it's pointing out the high percentage of completers among paid course takers that's the weak argument. In any event, from the paper itself I'm having a hard time finding where the 59% comes from:

"43,196 registrants earned certificates of completion. Another 35,937 registrants explored half or more of course content without certification. An additional 469,702 registrants viewed less than half of the content. And 292,852 registrants never engaged with the online content. In total, there
were 841,687 registrations from 597,692 unique users across the first year of HarvardX and MITx courses. "

(43/841 ~= 5%)

Exactly. A small subset of MOOC users have a high completion rate. It's the same with online classes in general; they work great for smart or motivated students. But most students are in at best one of those categories, and purely online classes cannot work for the majority of students.

MOOCs work well for a few people. That's great, but it's also why MOOCs and online classes are of limited value. If we want successful learning, most students need to be in a real, non-virtual classroom.

That's because you think god is a professor. The mooc paradigm kind of sucks, but of course "on-line" education is going to be unimaginably important.

"Let's take everything that is bad about a traditional classroom and then amplify it!"

There are two ways to view this. One is that educators are simply talking to each other. The alternative — more likely in my view — is that on-line and face-to-face education are in fact complements, but also that our educators know much less than they sometimes let on. They need MOOCs to learn the material, or more optimistically to improve their presentations of it.

No, there's a far more obvious third way to view this, which has already been pointed out. Teachers get paid additional money for course credits. Teachers don't take courses to learn material and rare is the teacher who pretends to more than he or she knows. And as I've pointed out before, teachers are plenty smart enough to teach high school courses.

It sounds like teachers have discovered MOOCs as a cheaper, lower hassle way of buying more money.

Amusing to watch Tyler think he's found tea leaves that will help him read *meaning* into teachers taking MOOCs. "They must want to learn something!" or "They're lying about their knowledge!"

It sounds like teachers have discovered MOOCs as a cheaper, lower hassle way of buying more money.

That's a clever way of putting it, and since 1) salary bumps are automatic in most public schools once you've accumulated various numbers of course credits, and 2) it is very difficult to fail an education course, pretty accurate.

This assumes that MOOCs would count toward continuing ed. So far as I kow, they do not, at least at his time.

I thought of that, but if MOOCs are indeed seeing a big influx of teachers, then rest assured they're doing it for some reason other than self-education. A lot of courses are eligible to submit for credit. I don't see why MOOCs wouldn't be.

I'd have to know more to be sure. But anyone who thinks that the best explanations are a) teachers don't know very much and need more help faking it or b) they just talk to each other through MOOCs is simply too clueless on the subject. It's idiotic.

If I'm reading the article properly, it sounds like this study covers MITx and Harvardx online classes only. My guess is the enrollment might not be representative of broader MOOC audience.

There's a least a third, and probably a fourth, way to think about why teachers enroll in MOOCs (I've taken 2 myself).

3. As a teacher, I might be interested in learning how they work (before, for example, I develop one, or encourage others to take one). How better to do this than to take a MOOC myself? (I did this; I took a MOOC on long-run economic development on Coursera. I'm an economist, and taking a course in my discipline made it easier for me to evaluate things like presentation and assessment.)

4. There might be something well outside my disciplinary specialty in which I am interested, but I have neither the time not the flexibility to enroll in a f-t-f class (I also did this; I'm an economist and I took a MOOC on Beethoven's piano sonatas, also on Coursera). This more-or-less is the same point dan-in-philly made in the first comment.

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