Scratching the Surface and High Drop-out rates from MOOCs

Yesterday, I was reading some articles (Here and Here) about MOOCs drop-out rates and was thinking – Why the hell most of the students don’t finish their entire online course, even when it’s taught by the best of best (Both universities and professors) ?
This drop-out rate can be a very bad thing, when you have to convince someone that MOOCs are a good idea.

But, I opened my Coursera account and saw the same effect – in dozens of courses that i signed up for, watched the videos for week 1 and week 2 and after this, dropped out.

But wait a minute, I have finished one course of Cryptography and right now, I am doing pretty well with the Machine Learning in Coursera.
For the rest of the courses, I contributed to the high drop-out rate by not sticking with them.


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So what can be the problem with MOOCs ?

As I checked my YouTube subscription’s list, I realized something – I enrolled for 80% of the courses in Coursera (and edX) out of pure curiosity for the topic.
All I wanted to do is to scratch the surface – get to know the topic and see some examples. After that, I had no motivation to finish an entire course in Sociology, for example.

RadoRado's YouTube Subscriptions

RadoRado’s YouTube Subscriptions

I love to watch YouTube channels like Numberphile, Veritasium, CGP Grey, MinutePhysics etc., because they produce short (10 to 15 minutes long) videos on different topics (From Math, to Geography and Quantum Physics)
I scratch the surface of those topics.
And when something gets more interesting for me, I research it & dive deeper into it. If I don’t go deeper into it straight ahead, it’s not that I am dropping out of a given topic – maybe it’s not the right time.

Curiosity for a topic vs. I want to take this entire course

And then I realized that I use Coursera as if it was a YouTube. If there’s an interesting course, I enroll for it, because I want to know more about it.
And after Week 1 or 2, I stop watching videos, because my curiosity has been satisfied for that moment.

I believe most of the people who use Coursera tend to do the same – they see an interesting topic with great introduction video, but they don’t care about all the details as they would in a university. Not for the first time in that topic.
And so they drop out, because the course is too long, the material is too hard, they don’t care anymore or they simply forgot about the course.

To sum it up, this is what happens:

  1. An interesting course is coming in Coursera.
  2. I would love to learn more about that topic, so I Enroll.
  3. After week 1 or 2, when I got enough from the topic for that given moment, I stop waiting for next videos or watch next week videos.
  4. And because I have to enroll, in order to watch the videos, I contribute to the high drop-out rate

Now imagine with the marketing efforts of Coursera and the good video introductions for most of the courses – lots of people are doing the same thing!

Wrong or not ?

Of course, such behavior is not wrong. People are curious enough to enroll, but not sure if they want to finish the entire 12 week course there.

And because enrollment is easy & required – in the end, you have a huge drop-out rate.

And people are saying – “You see, MOOCs are not working ! See this 90% drop-out rate!”
I think, this is a win for MOOCs, because more and more people are getting interested in topics, they never expected to learn from MIT or Harvard professors before.
And they may not finish a course from the first time, but the curiosity counts. The drop-out rate should not be such a key metric.

This means that there is a room for improvement and a market for new players. Get people hooked up on a certain topic by removing most of the Academic stuff out of it. And when a given person is ready – offer them a university course about the topic!

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