More about the students, perhaps.
MOOCs are very well-organized and administered, with time being spent to approve of the course, design and develop it, record it, and finally post it online for consumers (aka students) to use. Therefore, it would be preposterous to say that MOOCs are to blame for dropout rates.
It’s the consumers whose behavior oscillates between excitement and disinterest. Dropout rates (most sources cite 85–95%, it now looks like a commonplace; hence, I don’t cite any here) clearly show that the audience is very diverse. At universities, you choose Psychology 101 because you are a psychology major or simply very curious to learn more about it. In MOOCs, you choose because it’s alluring.
Thinking about who the audience of MOOCs is, a journalist Ry Rivard (2013) in his article put the nail on the head when he wrote this: “People who register for MOOCs are said to include precocious high school students, college students looking for more ways to study a subject they are learning in a traditional classroom and faculty who want to watch how other faculty teach their subject.” What he means is, of course, that not all of the users are of that ilk, but a big majority. The journalist then quotes another professor who commented that some users sigh up in MOOCs “for the same reason they do a Sunday crossword puzzle” (Rivard, 2013). Pretty much, because they have some free time and want to fill it in doing something more or less meaningful, without the intention of ever completing the course.
Some students that dropped out do not testify to them “loitering” on MOOCs, but mean that they are interested in actual knowledge and do not need an approval of the MOOC organizers to show they have learned something. There are students who watch all video lectures for a course and stay till the end, but they do not take tests or the final test. It may signify that a certificate of completion or a credit does not mean much to them, it is the knowledge per se that interests them (Anna Pedroza, n.d.). Their values may be such that a certificate does not back up in a legitimate way what they were able to learn and what they can use in their lives (whether it for a job, for school, etc.). A certificate is not a necessary reinforcement for them–if to speak in behaviorist terms.
Summing up, dropout rates can say a lot about the audience of MOOCs–guests, learners for knowledge, and learners for certificates. MOOCs’s audience is not homogeneous and much more diverse than a university audience. If a university opens its doors to all students without any filter (e.g., exams), then it may be that the influx of students will be as much varied as in MOOCs. But MOOCs themselves are no less great tools for educational purposes because of that, they continue to do their job perfectly.
Rivard, Ry. (2013, March 08). Measuring the MOOC dropout rate. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com
Pedroza, Anna. (n.d.). Is the 95% MOOC dropout rate the big issue? Mediacore. Retrieved from http://www.mediacore.com