Massive Open Online Courses have been around now for just over 3 years. Since then they have become more popular and are more known. Nevertheless, completion rates of MOOCs remain low (on average, completion rates are below 13%). This is often seen as something that shows MOOCs will not revolutionize education as, in order to be successful, completion rates would need to increase.
However, I do not believe this is as big of problem because of the following 3 reasons:
There are no incentives to keep you from dropping out.
Unlike traditional university, where dropping out of a class would results in you having to re-enrol in your programme, there is no negative incentive if you drop out of a MOOC. There are no cost involved in dropping out as you did not invest any money it (you can even get a voucher on some platforms if you did) and the only thing lost is the time you had already invested. It will not affect your degree in any way because there is no fixed curriculum and no one will blame you for not finishing. This lack of incentives makes it very easy for people to stop participating or un-enrol from the course. Even though I completed over 60 MOOCs, I have also stopped participating for various reasons. The lack of incentives was one of them.
Not everyone feels the need to complete the course.
As MOOCs cater to a varied public which is much more diverse than traditional education, it is likely the things MOOC participants expect from this type of education is different than traditional students. Some of the students that are enrolled might pursue to complete the course but others might just be interested in a specific element or topic of the course. Time commitments differ more than traditional education as MOOC students might do this next to their regular job or educational programme as something that is a great supplement to their main activity but does not require completion to benefit them.
Concepts such as ‘enrolment’ have different meanings from traditional education.
In traditional education, enrolling in a course often includes some consideration of the added value of the course to your overall programme. In the world of MOOCs, this is not necessarily the case. As Robert Wright, a Pinceton lecturer, pointed out ‘enrolment’ in a MOOC could mean as little as “Sure, what the hell, send me an email when this course starts.” making it have a fundamental different meaning than enrolling in more traditional education. As a result of this the metrics we use to measure the success of a MOOC should differ from those used in traditional education (at least for now).
The combination of the lack of consequences, the greater variety in the student population of MOOCs compared to traditional education and different meanings of the same concepts are some of the reasons MOOC completion rates are so low. Nevertheless, this is no problem as students do gain valuable knowledge and skills from participation in these courses which they can use both inside and outside the classroom.