MOOC Completion Rates

3 Reasons why MOOC Completion Rates are so low (…and why this is OK)

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.

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Joris Schut is an Educational Scientist, Designer and Information Specialist, providing organizations with simple and practical solutions for their complex and multi-dimensional problems.

  • How you can say ” MOOCs will revolutionise education .”
    It has nothing to do with college education .
    1.- It is for everyone from 16 years olds to 80 years olds
    2.- İt is for everyone from high school students to Ph D owners
    3.- There is no prerequisite to attend the course
    4.- Therefore the knowledge presented is very low key
    5.- Mostly 4-5 weeks long
    MOOCs are 100 opposite of college courses . Therefrore it is not education at all . It is just a farce .
    But one thing good happened .
    Top universities started online research and providing online courses such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard. They are outside of MOOCs trends .
    These 200 high performing universities have now 5 million enrollment. They will create online degree programs for 10 million styudents soon .
    First 5 million will pay around 20.000-30.000 per year as usual , 10 million onliners will pay may be $ 200-400 per course .

  • Sotiris Makrygiannis

    Joris, one thing that is not told is that a huge amount of money is spent to Google ADs to attract and enrol the users to the course. So high enrolment numbers is becouse Edx, Coursera and others have spent 10.000s of dollars to lure in the users. That huge amount of enrolments was used a marketing news story to attract the headlines of powerful Media and there you go, you just created a very nice loop into your internet marketing story. Is sad that no one so far didnt tell or write about but we still keep talking about everything else than the truth. Sotiris Makrygiannis, CEO of (we grow organically, naturally, no marketing budget included)