Do dropout rates tell us more about MOOCs or about students?

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

Pedroza, Anna. (n.d.). Is the 95% MOOC dropout rate the big issue? Mediacore. Retrieved from


8 thoughts on “Do dropout rates tell us more about MOOCs or about students?

  1. I do not think MOOCs are to blame for student dropout rates. Students drop out of courses, programs, and even school for various reasons; there is no one thing to blame for the dropout rate. I think MOOCs are a great resource to educate people. People sign up for MOOCs for various reasons which is similar to why people drop out of them for different reasons. I think this was an interesting post and I have enjoyed learning about MOOCs.


  2. I must agree with you and Rachel, I think there are a numerous amount of reasons that people drop out of courses, programs, and school similarly as MOOCs. I think you gave some great reasons as to why they may drop out, but I have to say my favorite is because some people may simply be there to learn. They may not feel that a final grade and exams do not determine their knowledge of the suspect, but rather they feel as though they learn best at their own speed and rate. Dropping out of something can not be pinpointed to one specific reason, but rather is a number of reasons all acting together.


  3. HI, Yuri. It is so great that you wrote the difference between the MOOC lessons and real class lessons. Both of them have advantages and disadvantages. The MOOC is suitable for people who want to learn about the knowledge but not too professionally, but There may be no exams to check the study. The real class lessons might have exams and must go to the classroom. These free method about MOOC is really good for students to choose, they can choose many interesting lessons and drop them everytime, the decision become more easily and the varied kinds of courses attracted more people.


  4. Hi all,

    I think you all made a point in your comments. And I like how Yuri categorised different types of learners of MOOC in your post. I happened to read an interesting article recently, the author introduced a website (Brain Chase) for kids to keep records of their progress of their MOOC course. Kids on this website made a higher completion rate. This is a paid website, which is the biggest difference from MOOC. Here is the link for this article:


    • Thank you Jiaming, I will check the articles you shared! Payment makes a lot of difference, I would say. I don’t think I would do it for money, but because I cannot afford it now, maybe in the future I will change my mind : )


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s