Wednesday, January 16, 2013

MOOCs: ‘dropout’ a category mistake, look at ‘uptake’?

I'm not a dropout, I'm a dropin!
I've dropped in to a number of MOOCs recently. Some I've liked and persevered with, others I've had my fill after a short-time, for most, life is too short and \i don't have the time, yet others have been awful, too slow and ponderous for words. But it's all good, that's what I expected. But I resent being universally classed as a 'dropout' and used as an excuse to dis' MOOCs.
Category mistake
Is it inappropriate to take the word ‘dropout’ from one context and stamp it upon another? With MOOCs I’d call it a category mistake, when a word is used to mean one thing (pejoratively) in the context of a long school, college or University course, then applied with the same pejorative force to a very different type of learning experience. Stopping during a MOOC is very different from dropping out school, an expensive long-term degree or a compulsory compliance course.
Lots of people dropout from MOOCS, so what? Lots of people stop doing lots of things.
Lot’s of people don’t finish books but we don’t see this as a sign of intellectual failure. In fact, it can be a sign of efficient learning and research. Read Pierre Bayard’s brilliant ‘How to talk about Books youhaven’t read’ to see how prevalent and positive this can be.
Lots of students don’t attend lectures. Imagine running a restaurant where all the meals have been paid for in advance, yet huge numbers of customers don’t turn up – that’s not unusual in Universities. Yet is there a demand to take a register in all lectures to collect the most basic form of teaching data? NO!
Lots of students attend lectures but drop out in terms of attention. In fact they nearly all do, as it’s a predictable function of the 1 hour lecture, whose length is based upon the fact that the Babylonians had a sexidecimal number system, not the psychology of learning. Yet we don’t demand any checks during lectures on psychological attention or insist on more action learning.
Lot’s of people drop out of college because the course, institution, teaching method, boredom, other opportunities, debt or academics are not for them. In fact, as any lecturer will tell you, colleges are full of people doing courses for reasons that have little to do with genuine interest in the subject. In fact, many degree courses simply lock in students to long-term 3/4 year courses.
MOOCs not failure factories
MOOCs must not be seen as failure factories. They must rise above the education models that filter and weed out learners through failure. Good MOOCs will allow you to truly go at your own pace, to stop and start, go off on an exploratory path and return again. This is what true adult learning is and should be. I always drop out of learning experiences as I never go on formal courses. I decide when I’ve had enough. They should not copy but complement or construct new models of learning.
Uptake not dropout
MOOCs encourage the ‘look see’ approach to learning, and as they are free or very cheap, the consequences are negligible. Do the people who don’t finish a MOOC rush back to college or Universities with cheques in their hand? Of course not. The decision to take or drop out of a MOOC is not a life changing decision in terms of money, time or commitment. Many MOOCs are, in fact, VOOCs (Vocational Open Onine Courses) where the aim is upskilling, not academic progress.
We need to look at uptake, not dropout. It’s astonishing that MOOCs exist at all, never mind the millions, and shortly many millions, who have given them a go. Dropout is a highly pejorative term that comes from ‘schooling’. The ‘high school dropout’. He’s ‘dropped out of ‘University’. It's this pathological view of education that has got us into this mess in the first place. MOOCs are NOT school, they eschew the lecture hall and are more about learning than teaching. MOOCs, like BOOKs, need to be seen as widely available opportunities, not compulsory attendance schooling. They need to be encouraged, not disparaged.
Take Sebastian Thrun’s famous AI course. He was teaching 200 students at 30k a year, suddenly he had 160,00o students who paid zilch. The fact that his own internal students opted for the online course, 26,000 students finished and that the top 400 students were all external and online is astonishing. Think on this. If we forget dropout and focus on the true comparison, 200 versus 160,000 means that it would take 800 years using traditional methods. Even with the 26,000, that’s 130 years!
The data for Duke’s first MOOC has come out, and at first it looks depressing but they don’t think so. Bioelectricity (Coursera) registered 12,461 (from 110 countries) with 7593 watching at least one video. 313 completed certification (basic+distinction) with 260 (distinctions). The real story here is that the number of students who completed the course is over ten times the campus enrollment.
Note that I’m not saying that uptake is not an issue. It is in terms of investment and growth. The monetisation of MOOCs is important in terms of their sustainability but the monetisation models are evolving quickly to include recruitment, advertising, delivery fees and low cost certification.


Juan Domingo Farnos Miro said...

Realmentre Donald, la filosofía de los MOOCs y creo que la nomeclatura es lo de menos, es el tener claro por parte de todos que la educación tal como la venimos realizando ya no tiene sentido, quizás si cambiáramos el término "educación" podríamos hasta hablar con mayor libertad..

La misma Universidad decimonónica, ha pasado a mejor vida, aunque esté sobreviviendo ni se sabe por qué...

Anonymous said...

MOOC is a wrong word in the first place.
Courses are not massive and not free also .
Yes that drop out course is a negative impact .
The better is to cahrage a $ 10 at the beginning so that just curious peıople should not enroll .Then no stoppage . No negative attitude + better information less work

Unknown said...

Hi Donald,

I've been thinking about MOOC's, uptake and dropout, and attitudes towards completion rates.

I'm doing a MOOC at the moment - #etmooc - and am optimistic about MOOCs as a medium for learning.

I don;t think we can categorise the low completion rates as either dropping out, or as elective and independent learning.

In truth, we will probably have to consider completion rates as a function of multiple categories. Disinterest, lack of support, student aims and requirements which do not need completion to be achieved, external factors such as time and scheduling, students lacking sufficient prior knowledge or learning strategies to take advantage of learning opportunities in lower support environments, just in time learners with specific well defined goals, project oriented learners who verify through production.

In order to make any assertion about completion/dropout rates, and what they may signify (and in all likelihood, they will signify both positive and negative things, and the balance will be highly dependent on the individual MOOC) we need data.

Theory won't answer this question, nor will conviction. Data will answer it. Careful attention paid to the collection and understanding of evidence.

To understand the completion rate, and what it signifies, we need to collect meaningful data.

Rosemary Powers said...

I enjoyed your comments on "dropout" as a category mistake with regard to MOOCs (and in general), and think even the term "browser" might be more fitting for those who often treat the MOOC as another form of online searching/exploring. As/if universities are successful in drawing students in large numbers for traditional credit, certificates, or other alternative "badges of competence", I'm sure there will be some changes in the statistics we see of so many "browsers." But the online medium itself promotes the kind of learning experience you describe as typical for you, so if more people claim that experience, we might be able to expunge the "dropout" term all together.
This makes me think of the term "pushed out"--which some youth advocates use as an alternative to "drop out" to describe teens who leave traditional schools without completing a course of study. While the dynamics with those not continuing with a MOOC are certainly different, I am going to think more about how some aspects of this new "massive" approach might also "push out" some learners. It may not always be as self-confident a process of browsing as it appears .
Your post really got me thinking. I also enjoyed your reference to the author who threw the book at books, and your earlier post about the movement from scrolls to books to ....where we are.

Unknown said...

We all take MOOCs for different reasons. The ones not going for credits are well advised to take what is valuable for them out of the process and leave the rest behind

Alex Watson said...

Great post. I'm guilty of signing up and 'dropping out' of more than a few. The good intentions are there...but study requires a time commitment. For me its a time management issue. I love learning for learning's sake so often want to enroll in this, or have a go at that. There are also those things that get flagged up as 'gaps' in my knowledge or understanding which I feel may need a specific intervention of some sort. There's a MOOC for that...yet the issue remains. We have to remember...we humans evolve more slowly and deliberately than the technology we use. The labeling of 'dropouts' and perhaps redefining our understanding of what education means is part of that human evolution.

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