MIT, Harvard Evaluate Their MOOCs’ Impact


Harvard and MIT have issued a report on the effectiveness of their Massive  Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered through MITx and HarvardX free to the public. The study: “HarvardX and MITx: Two Years of Open Online Courses Fall 2012-Summer 2014”  drew on data from two years and 68 open online courses and reveals a steady growth of multiple-course participation and only with a slight majority of students seeking course certification.

According to the paper’s authors:

“We find that overall participation in our MOOCs remains substantial and that the average growth has been steady. . . From the first registrations on July 24, 2012, through the close of our analytic window on September 21, 2014—a total of 790 days—an average of 1,300 unique participants entered a HarvardX or MITx course every day, for a total of 1.03 million unique participants.”

On average, a unique participant enrolled into 1.7 HarvardX and MITx courses in these two years the project has been running.

The survey also identified an initial decline in student participation in repeated courses, which then stabilizes during the third time the course is re-offered. Ho, et al. say that participation declines by an average of 43% when a course is introduced in a second version. The authors explain, however, that there’s no universal law of declining enrollment observed in the survey.

Certification is another aspect of MOOC the study examined, and according to the paper, the majority of individuals seeking certification are teachers:

“Among the one-fifth of participants who responded to survey questions about their professional experience as teachers or instructors, 39% identified as a past or present teacher, and 21% of these teachers reported teaching in the topic area of the course in which they were participating.”

As the authors emphasize, these numbers show that online courses are not appealing to the public solely in view of the credentials they provide upon completion:

”These survey results reflect the diversity of possible, desired uses of open online courses beyond certification.”

Another trend observed is that certification rates tend to be higher among individuals that pay to ID-verify their certificates, meaning that they have their course completion certification include a photo ID. The demographics that tend to ID-verify:

“[A]re slightly older, more educated, more domestic, and less often female than non-verifying participants in the same course. They certify at a substantially higher rate, 59% for verified students compared to 5% for non-verified students, on average, across 12 courses.”

The report also delineates opportunities and possible next steps in light of the findings on enrollment, certification and the demographics of a typical MOOC student.

One of the goals is to identify strategies at institutional and course level that will enable increased access to MOOCs.

Increasing and formalizing educational strategies to and from residential courses was also prioritized by the report. The authors argue that residential education at Harvard and MIT campuses has improved thanks to the rigorous innovations and resources MOOCs have put into place.

Lastly, the need for focused research on target populations is an opportunity to design and offer courses that are in demand, the report highlights.

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