Study Finds Active Participation in MOOCs Boosts Completion Rate


A new report that analyzes student data from massive open online courses (MOOCs) suggests that instead of being simply offered information, student learn best through experiences and doing things for themselves.

The study, “Learning is Not a Spectator Sport: Doing is Better than Watching for Learning from a MOOC,” explores the interactive activities included in MOOCs and compares them to the learning benefits provided through videos and text of such courses.  Findings suggest that those students who participate in the activities learn more than those who only watch the videos and listen to the lectures.  Researchers estimate that the effects of learning by doing are 6 times that of watching more videos or reading more text.

The online course “Introduction to Psychology as a Science” was used for the study and offered at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  While some of the students in the course opted to take part on a traditional level by watching video lectures, others chose to participate in a different version that allowed them to make use of interactive materials made available by Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative.

Each student was assigned 11 weekly quizzes and a final exam.  The results found that those who took part in the traditional class earned an average of 57% on the final exam in comparison to an average of 66% earned by the students who chose the interactive version of the course.  When a student completed an interactive activity, results showed they learned 6 times as much as those who only read or watched videos.

Researchers also compared course dropout and retention rates because MOOCs have a history of retention issues.  Students who participated in the interactive course were found to be 30% more likely to complete the course and final exam than were those who took the traditional path.  Participation in weekly quizzes was also found to be higher among the interactive course students.

Researchers concluded that additional study is needed, and further research would involve not only what type of learning activities were used for the course, but how much time was spent on each.

“While many MOOCs do include questions and some online and offline homework assignments, some have argued that a key limitation of many online courses is that they lack sufficiently rich, well-supported activities with adaptive scaffolding for learning by doing [cf., 33, 18].  Our results support the view that video lectures may add limited value for student learning and that providing more interactive activities will better enhance student learning outcomes.”