Over the past few days I've been reading what seems like hundreds of articles and blog posts about MOOCs. This is mostly because I've discovered a number of sites that aggregate these articles in convenient ways. I've given up trying to remember everything I read about MOOCs - I'm just letting the flood wash over me and seeing what might stick.
But I want to think a bit more about one article (or is it a blog?): MOOCs and exercise bikes: more in common than you'd think. Although some writers see the high attrition rate of MOOCs to be evidence of failure, I've been taking more of a toe-in-the-waters view - the barriers to signing up for a MOOC are so low that of course lots of enrollees will subsequently decide not to continue.
This article suggests a different perspective, that of the well-meaning learner who somehow loses motivation. Just like with that exercise bike, they feel bad about dropping out, and really wish they could have continued. Sometimes they will have stopped for a solid reason (bike equivalent - sprained ankle), but for many it was just lack of motivation. They know that they're missing a lot by not keeping up with the work, but their motivation fades and they're left with another failed attempt at learning.
So how can I build features into Useful Genetics that will help students stick with the course and get the full benefits of the course and the personal reinforcement of being a successful learner?
One part of the solution is course-specific - building relevance into every week's work. For Useful Genetics, week 1 is likely to be highly motivating (how people differ), but the next few
weeks material may be very dry (gene expression, how heredity
works), and I can see a lot of attrition happening here unless I make a special effort to prevent that.
Another other part of the solution is more general. What features of courses make them easier to stick with to completion? I haven't seen much discussion of this yet. Maybe this is one of the things that course-analytics can help with. (If any readers know of studies, please post them in the comments.)
The exercise-bike article mentions the motivational benefits of being part of a group. I don't think this motivation can come from the discussion forums; there are too many participants. Face-to-face study groups are great, and I can encourage students to form them, but these won't be an option for most people. But there might be a way to have people form interest-group-based online study groups, for genetic diseases or dog breeding or political concerns or whatever. Perhaps, once I see the feedback from the 'Why are you taking this course' part of the initial survey, I can encourage the formation of many small discussion groups focused on the specific motivations students describe.