I announce on social media, clear a spot in my weekly routine, and eagerly await the start of another class on Coursera… which I will inevitably drop. I’ve never once completed a massive open online course, the exciting trend bringing free college courses to the masses. I’ve failed at dozens in many academic disciplines. I’m not a bad student, though. One look at the front of my mom’s refrigerator will show you that. I even managed a 3.8 GPA on a master’s degree with a lot of online coursework. So why are MOOCs my academic Achilles’s heel?
I’m not alone in my struggle. Times Higher Education says the completion rate is below 7% and Mind/Shift says it’s below 10%. There are some excellent theories and research done into why the dropout is so high. Steve Kolowich in at The Chronicle for Higher Education in particular has some great pieces and new ideas. But I don’t think any of it will work for me.
I want to be the smart kid in class. It’s not the paternal affirmation of a proud teacher that I’m seeking, though that never hurts. I want to take the role of a leader or guide or even thoughtful commentator on our collective academic challenge. Education has been the place I find my identity as much as it is where I acquire new information. MOOCs don’t provide that for me. But they could.
The courses I completed online mattered for my degree. I was financially invested. The GPA would reflect on my professional credentials. It was right along my central academic interests and I did not sign up for the class impulsively. All those factors matter and they’ve all been identified by a dozen different sources. I don’t buy it. They can be overcome. I stuck with my classes because people wanted me in their discussions or project teams.
Look at the relationships that blossom in the typical college experience. The human, social impact of a learning environment needs to be better incorporated into the MOOC experience. Track what classes yield the most lasting interpersonal relationships and build on that. Make Coursera rival eHarmony in how many marriages it yields. The cliques that emerge from MOOCs can be the next Skull and Bones fraternity.
Kolowich suggested that adaptive learning be brought MOOCs to increase the personalization that a students receive. With over a hundred thousand students quietly following along a series of recorded videos, a little personalization seems fitting. The premise of Kolowich’s suggestion is exciting: Implement existing educational technology into the MOOC framework to enrich the experience and increase retention.
I hope to find a MOOC that has a rolling series of live sessions hosted by eager volunteer TAs. I’d jump in one of these Google Hangout sessions, buzz in my answers on ExitTicket after chatting with my peers. My scores would unlock a ClassBadge for my whole study group. As the first ones to get the novelty badge, our team would be recognized on the class’s homepage. Are you trying to make a massive open online class retain more of their students? Use technology to enhance educational relationships and not replace them.
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