MOOCs enjoyed an incredible year in 2013 with Coursera in particular benefiting the most by rapidly evolving as it hit and surpassed a triple milestone of 100 partner institutions, 500 courses, and 5 million students. The demand for quality online education resources is high, but Coursera was frequently criticized for students' low completion rates.
The growth of Coursera has been met with skepticism as well as various drawbacks threatening its progress. Students' retention rates and demographic biases are the main targets for criticism. Among the priorities for Coursera in 2014 is to shift the conversation around the two dimensions, traditional education and online education, of the learning experience, redefine what is meant by being successful, lay the groundwork for products, offerings, and features that can help students navigate this new medium of learning to meet their own goals – either completing dozens of courses or simply checking out a new subject.
According to EdSurge, the overall average retention across all Coursera courses is approximately 4% — a dismal number compared to an on-campus lecture class. However, Coursera is reconsidering whether it really is a failure for thousands of students to complete a course while tens of thousands are browsing, considering its class enrollment is completely open, free, and requires no commitment. Additionally, a more promising picture is portrayed by the intent of users:
Students who said at the outset of a course that they intended to earn a Statement of Accomplishment, roughly 24% successfully completed the course. In addition, 64% of "committed" students end up completing all the coursework if the survey is conducted one month into a course.
Aside from retention and completion, MOOCs also come under scrutiny when it comes to their extent of living up to their goals of democratizing learning. With reference to recent studies, within certain classes and areas of study, some 80% of students have already earned some kind of degree. Early courses were geared toward specialized topics, and the overall phenomenon that early adopters of technology tend to skew toward the educated likely influenced that number.
Additionally, Coursera sees promise in 40% of its learners coming from the developing world where the few top-quality institutions in most countries have very limited capacity relative to overall demand, and many students are relegated to institutions that are significantly understaffed and where the quality of instruction is highly variable.
Coursera is also expanding its impact on populations that have been traditionally underserved by higher education as well as actively working to broaden access for students in less-developed countries through a range of initiatives. 2014 is primed to see Coursera expand, improve, and innovate to bring its vision for the future of education to life.