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Summary:

MOOCs have difficulties keeping students engaged in forum discussions, according to new study.

digital education

While Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) promise a classroom experience in a more flexible, online environment, researchers at Princeton University have found that the horror stories of poor participation that further fuel the ongoing debate about their effectiveness, according to the MIT Review.

PhD candidate Christopher Brinton and his team studied the behavior and interactions of 115,000 students participating in 76 courses offered on Coursera. Over time, the data was concerning: the volume of discussion throughout the course declines heavily over the length of the course, and more than 40 percent of students in courses posted less than two times in the forums.

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Brinton and his team found that many factors contribute to the overall participation rate — and its major drops. One of the big issues is that many MOOCs are too noisy, and small-talk that’s unrelated to classes drowns out pertinent information. Another source of issues is how the teachers choose to moderate discussion: well-organized forums with good categories have better shots at retention, while peer-graded homework lessons and lots of participation from instructors drives away students.

In order to solve this problem, the researchers developed an automated system to moderate posts, culling non-essential information to keep students from experiencing participation overload, but it’s hard to say whether or not that will remedy the overall problems MOOCs continue to face with active participation.

  1. They need to fix the way the courses are staggered at all MOOCs. A regular start date every two or three months for all classes. As it is currently, the courses start every two, three, four weeks, so it easy to lose interest in your “old” course, since you just started a cool new one…

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  2. One of the things the study does not apparently consider is the continual learner. I’ve signed in to several MOOCs and deliberately did not finish them – I got the information I needed from a teacher with good credentials, and that was enough. This is a huge win for anyone who wants to keep up with a field or learn something specific, but doesn’t want the hassle, expense, and restrictions of a regular college course. (And I say this as a college-level instructor.) In short, it doesn’t sound like the study measured the most relevant benchmark.

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  3. I think there would be a higher participation rate if you were able to earn credits or a certificate for completing a course. I’ve learned Ruby and Python from Udacity and Coursera and I found it fun but I admit that I didn’t finish in the planned time that the 2 sites outlined.

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  4. I have previously enrolled in three coursers courses, completed two and dropped out of the third as my own university study took precedence. I plan on re-enrolling in this one when I have the time. I didn’t participate in the online discussions to a large extent but then I wouldn’t have (I know this from experience) in a regular class. I participated in a Facebook site of motivated students and that was good and continues to be a place where assistance is given to those who are struggling with the English language. I agree with gbcmars00 that perhaps the most relevant benchmark was not measured. I’d hate to see them removed as I think they are a fantastic learning tool that is affordable to all.

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  5. I’d be happy just to see a class that teaches the difference between “concerning” and “disconcerting.”

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  6. davidllewelynjones Monday, January 6, 2014

    Interesting news… though agree with the some of the comments, this could be a case of measuring the wrong metrics.

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