Study shows concerning participation rates for MOOCs

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.

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