Via The New Yorker: A MOOC Mystery: Where Do Online Students Go? Excerpt and then a comment:
When the Times declared 2012 the “Year of the MOOC,” it seemed, in the words of the paper, that “everyone wants in,” with schools, students, and investors eager to participate. But, as can happen in academia, early ambition faded when the first few assessments were returned, and, since then the open-online model appears to have earned an incomplete, at best. An average of only four per cent of registered users finished their MOOCs in a recent University of Pennsylvania study, and half of those enrolled did not view even a single lecture.
EdX, a MOOC collaboration between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown results that are a little more encouraging, but not much. And a celebrated partnership between San Jose State and Udacity, the company co-founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor turned MOOC magnate , also failed, when students in the online pilot courses consistently fared worse than their counterparts in the equivalent courses on campus.
Some of the problems encountered by MOOCs echo those of an earlier model of alternative learning. Last month, the General Educational Development exam, or G.E.D., was replaced by a more challenging computer version. Like MOOCs, the G.E.D, which has been around since 1942, is partially an attempt to save time and money in education, and to extend opportunity to students outside the traditional classroom. As a marker of high-school equivalence, it holds the promise that an entire academic career can be distilled into the knowledge required to pass a five-part exam.
But according to a September, 2013, American RadioWorks report, of the forty per cent of G.E.D.-holders who go on to college, fewer than half complete more than a year, and only about four per cent earn a four-year degree. The additional rigor of the redesigned exam might not be the solution. The military tried a similar approach when, in the nineteen-seventies, it raised the G.E.D. scores required for entry. Even then, G.E.D. applicants quit or were thrown out of the service at a higher rate than enlistees with high-school degrees.
This brings back memories of the 1990s, when I designed and taught my college's first online writing course. We had a great communication system in First Class, and some eager, technically skilled students.
But the course ended with a third of the students doing fine, a third doing rather poorly, and a third vanishing altogether.
When I mentioned this on a bulletin board for online teachers, the response was striking: "Thank God I'm not the only one!" It was happening everywhere.
Eventually it sank in: We teachers were gung-ho early adopters who imagined our students must be gung-ho too. But they weren't.
The top third didn't give a damn about the thrill of being online. It was just where the information was that they needed to get where they wanted to go. The middle third (some of whom I'd taught face to face) were clearly not engaged as they been in a classroom. And the bottom third didn't get anything out of the experience at all.
That was when I finally (after almost 30 years in the business) realized that education does not depend on brilliant pedagogy or flashy PowerPoint slides. It depends on a rewarding social experience, for teacher and students alike.
Compared to the firehose information flow in a classroom, a course delivered online offered less than a trickle. We called the online medium "interactive," but it was like swapping small talk with someone on Pluto: the delay between signal and response was too long and fuzzy to be worthwhile.
After a few more years of tweaking, my online courses were no more successful. The chief value of the internet, in my last few years before retiring, was in creating class blogs where I could post my lecture notes and handouts. The students thought that was kind of cool, but they rarely bothered to post anything themselves.
So now, after God know how many millions have been spent, MOOCs aren't doing any better than we pioneers did when we jumped into online education without a clue.