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Education The Internet

Are High MOOC Failure Rates a Bug Or a Feature? 122

Posted by Soulskill
from the i-wouldn't-try-fixing-it-with-code dept.
theodp writes "In 'The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course,' NPR's Eric Westervelt reports that 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth. Westervelt joins others in citing the higher failure rate of online students as evidence that MOOCs aren't all they're cracked up to be. But viewed another way, the ability to try and fail without dire debt or academic consequences that's afforded by MOOCs could be viewed as a feature and not a bug. Being able to learn at one's own pace is what Dr. Yung Tae Kim has long argued is something STEM education sorely lacks, and MOOCs make it feasible to allow students to try-try-again if at first they don't succeed. By the way, if you couldn't scrape together $65,000 to take CS50 in-person at Harvard this year, today's the first day of look-Ma-no-tuition CS50x (review), kids!"
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Are High MOOC Failure Rates a Bug Or a Feature?

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  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot AT hackish DOT org> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:29PM (#45840691)

    I suspect a large number of the "failures" are just people who had good intentions to follow a course but didn't devote the time to it after all. Lots of people who sign up for a MOOC have other things they're doing, and this thing they don't really have to do inevitably is the first thing cut if they they busy.

    But what I am interested in is: 1) how many people actually complete; and 2) what quality of education those who complete have actually received. A course where 1000 people complete and 100 drop out vs. a course where 1000 people complete and 5000 drop out has a very different graduation rate, but both have educated 1000 people. The main worry would be whether the 2nd case has degraded the quality of education, by diluting how many attention the 1000 students who finished the course get... the other 5000 could take up a lot of TA/instruction/etc. resources.

    Also, though this is harder to quantify, I'd be interested in how many people who really need the education are getting it through this route. I know a number of academics who take a MOOC now or then out of curiosity or to learn something new. They tend to be some of the more successful students too. That's interesting and has some value, but not really going to change society: a guy with a PhD taking another course isn't going to plug any of our major education gaps. Instead it'd be more interesting of MOOCs are educating people (hopefully at a high level) who don't already have degrees, especially those who wouldn't have gotten them through another route.

  • by KFW (3689) * on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:30PM (#45840697)

    I've signed up for MOOC classes that seemed interesting, but once I started I realized the subject matter wasn't what I had thought, or that the instructor's style didn't suit me. So I abandoned those classes. I guess I show up as a "failure" as far as the MOOC goes, but I don't think it really reflects my inability to master the material. So it's not just about being able to repeat until mastery is obtained - it's about being able to check courses out. /K

  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:32PM (#45840715)

    The ability to join in a course based ONLY on the fact that you're interested in it, with no risk of "failure" is, I think, one of the best features of many MOOCs.

    Where there's no difference between "auditing" a class and trying for a certificate, it means that people may be much more likely to try something which they might turn out to enjoy and do well in.

    Now, I'm sure if you required people to pay something for the class, or commit to trying for a certificate such that there would be a record/cost of failure, then that would greatly increase the *percentage* of people who would pass. The question is whether you would get more people passing overall since it would stop everyone who was not sufficiently "serious" from attempting the course.

    Even those who sign up on a whim and don't get far in a course will probably get something from it, and they might well decide that it was something they want to try again more seriously the next time once they have a taste of what it's about and the amount of work involved.

    So absolutely I think "no pressure" is the right way to run a MOOC.


  • by ebonum (830686) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:37PM (#45840769)

    Let's say you are a smart kid. By 10 years old you are ready to ace calculus. You will suffer horribly waiting around year after year with nothing to do but get in trouble, become board and go completely off track. Schools are designed to severely punish the brightest and make them wait for the mean.

    This is a way out. It can only be viewed as a good thing.

  • WTF is MOOC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by csumpi (2258986) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @07:37PM (#45840775)
    To avoid fail, you need to use well established abbreviations in the post title, or explain fashion of the day abbreviations in the post.
  • Life happens. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by khasim (1285) <> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:13PM (#45841055)

    Lots of people who sign up for a MOOC have other things they're doing, and this thing they don't really have to do inevitably is the first thing cut if they they busy.

    Exactly. And the further you are along with your life the MORE this happens. So enrolling more non-traditional students means more "failures".

    But are they really failures? Even if they did not pass the course did they learn some of the material? More than they knew before? So what if all you learned was bubble sort before you had to drop the class. That's more than you started with. And if you take it again then you might get further.

  • by rsilvergun (571051) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:30PM (#45841201)
    MOOCs exist to train cheap workers and (in the long run) to soak up gov't subsidies cheaply. Real learning is hard. It's a full time job. The assumption with a MOOC is the person is working a full time job already. Every real college I knew back in the day would politely tell students that they weren't gonna make it past year 2 while working full time. That's why we used to give students money while they went to school...
  • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:45PM (#45841375) Journal

    The college time table does not work that well for people who are working

    Not only that, for many people who are NOT from the United States of America, going to college often is an impossible dream.

    The MOOC at least offer them a chance to try out.

    Even the so-called high failure rate of the enrolled students shouldn't be alarming.

    The MOCC enable MANY MORE a venue for them to better themselves - while some of them might fail, most of them will try and try and try again, just like that old choo-choo which kept on trying, until finally they reach their goal.

    It really saddens me to see so many people see the world with the viewpoint of the FIRST WORLD while most of the world population are certainly not getting to enjoy the many conveniences / privileges the first world people get but never realize.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:22PM (#45842523) Homepage

    The big problem with Massive Open Online Courses is that, in most cases, the content is recycled lectures with no quality control. Stanford's machine learning course is mostly watching Andrew Ng at a blackboard, with bad handwriting. I watched a Khan Academy course on moments of inertia, and it was full of basic errors - clockwise and counterclockwise reversed, no distinction between a free body and a pinned one - errors likely to confuse anybody new to the subject.

    Where's the post-production? Where's the production value? Where's the checking and Q/A? Of course students are dropping out and failing. The product quality sucks.

    We have all this compute power and aren't using it to help with the process. Most of these "courses" are just streaming video with some textual material to go with it. We're not seeing systems where users solve problems and, when they get the wrong answer, the system tries to figure out what they did wrong and coach them. The Plato system did that in the 1960s. There have been systems for teaching programming which did that. But no, we just have lectures and texts.

    if you want to see how to train people, look at the US military. The military has to train huge numbers of not-super-bright people in complex technical skills, and they've been doing it for decades with good success. Their approach isn't cheap; there are lots of visual aids, simulators, and setups for practicing skills. "Tell, then show, then do" is the mantra of military training.

To understand a program you must become both the machine and the program.