After just a few years, an explosion of interest, a lot of criticism and some iteration, the MOOC craze has recently come under close scrutiny. A recent University of Pennsylvania study of the 16 courses that the university offered through Coursera indicates that classes with thousands of students may not close the college gap as quickly as some champions had hoped.
On average, the University of Pennsylvania completion rate for its MOOCS was just four percent, although completion rates went up when the expectations for the class were lower. “One thing that did seem to make a difference was the number of expectations on the users,” said Laura Perna, co-author of the study on KQED’s Forum program. “Those who had fewer homework assignments, for example, had higher persistence rates.”
Another study conducted by Ezekiel Emanuel at the University of Pennsylvania found that 80 percent of MOOC users already have an advanced degree. Combined these studies cast doubt on the original hope that MOOCs would provide low-cost higher education to people across the world that don’t have access to traditional universities, but do have access to the internet and a motivation to learn.
A collaboration between another MOOC provider, Udacity, and San Jose State University has also soured the perception that MOOCs can help struggling students in the U.S. get remedial help. San Jose State targeted underserved students with remedial MOOC-style classes because those courses are in high demand. But many of the students that need remedial help were also less familiar with computers, had unstable access to the internet and learning challenges that made it difficult for them to succeed in regular classrooms as well. Students in the San Jose State Udacity classes did worse than their counterparts in normal classrooms.
“If there is any overall pattern so far it is that students who are beginning students, more remedial students, they’re going to have problems,” said Peter Hadreas, philosophy chair at San Jose State and a MOOC skeptic on KQED’s Forum program. “Students who already have degrees who take MOOCs do much better.”