The study found that course topic is the main motivator for enrollment among 35 percent of MOOC participants, followed by personal or professional development (24 percent) and the fact that MOOCs are free (16 percent). Among those who didn’t complete, 29 percent said the main reason was the learning experience didn’t match their expectations, and the same number said they were too busy to finish.
“This study confirms that for MOOCs to be a relevant part of education’s future, they must offer a more compelling experience than the traditional college course,” said Misty Frost, chief marketing officer at Instructure. “The popularity of MOOCs shows an appetite for learning in the open online format, but these courses are competing for attention in an age of digital entertainment and social media. Simply replicating the lecture model of instruction in a MOOC doesn’t facilitate the educational experience needed to sustain engagement.”
While not a major motivation at time of enrollment, the study did find that credentials or college credit could increase MOOC completion rates. About two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would be more likely to complete if MOOCs offered certificates or transferable college credit. About 10 percent who didn’t complete noted lack of incentive as the main reason.
The study is the first MOOC research commissioned by two companies with education at the heart of their businesses. Instructure provides learning management and MOOC solutions to more than 425 colleges, universities and K-12 districts, and Qualtrics’ research platform is used by 1,300 colleges and universities, including 95 of the top 100 business schools.
“Until now, research on MOOCs has been limited to asking faculty and administrators what they think about open online learning, but little has been done to explore what students are thinking,” said Danielle Wanderer, head of marketing at Qualtrics. “This study was an effort to move beyond anecdotes and speculation to get some real insights about what attracts students to MOOCs and what it takes to keep them engaged.”
Surprisingly, MOOCs are converting fence sitters into active participants during the course. About 72 percent of participants reported engaging in course discussions, compared to only 60 percent who expected to do so at the outset.
The study also suggests that engagement with other students in course discussions is particularly important in the virtual environment. About 24 percent of those who completed their courses reported being highly engaged in course discussions with fellow participants, compared to only 3 percent of those who failed to complete.