New study offers insights into learner behaviour

by L&D13 Jan 2017
The Michigan Institute of Technology and Harvard University have announced a new report based on four years of data, representing one of the largest surveys of massive open online courses to date.
The study into 290 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is expected to offer the most comprehensive insight yet into online learner engagement and behaviour.
In 2012, the two organisations launched open online courses on edX, a non-profit learning platform co-founded by the two institutions.
The study’s co-author, Isaac Chuang, is MIT senior associate dean of digital learning, as well as professor of physics and of electrical engineering and computer science.
Chuang told MIT News that strong collaboration enabled MIT and Harvard researchers to jointly examine nearly 30 million hours of online learner behavior and the growth of the MOOC space.
“Our latest report features data from four full years of MITx and HarvardX courses, exploring in-depth information on demographics and behavior of course participants,” he said.
Chuang’s co-author, Andrew Ho – chair of the Vice Provost for Advances in Learning (VPAL) Research Committee and professor of education at Harvard – said the team explored 290 Harvard and MIT online courses, a quarter-million certifications, 4.5 million participants, and 28 million participant-hours.
Key findings from the report:
  • Cumulative MOOC participation has grown steadily over four years of HarvardX and MITx course production. During these four years, 2.4 million unique users participated in one or more MITx or HarvardX open online courses, and 245,000 learner certificates were issued upon successfully completing a course. On average, 1,554 new, unique participants enrolled per day over four years. A typical MOOC certificate earner spends 29 hours interacting with online courseware.
  • Participants in a MOOC “classroom” are heterogeneous in background and intention. A typical course certifies 500 learners — with 7,900 learners accessing some course content after registering, and around 1,500 choosing to explore half or more of a course’s content. Demographic statistics of note include a median learner age of 29 years old, a two-to-one male-to-female ratio (67% male, 33% female), and significant participation from learners in other countries (71% international, 29% from the U.S.).
  • Computer science courses are the “hubs” of the MOOC curricular network. Tracking participants who enroll in multiple courses over time can reveal networks among courses and curricular areas. The new report found HarvardX and MITx computer science courses are the are the largest — compared to science, history, health, and other subjects — and route more participants to other disciplinary areas than they receive.
  • Educators are active MOOC participants. Surveys of learners in HarvardX or MITx courses also helped capture the broadest sense of teacher and instructor identity among MOOC participants. The new study found strong levels of participation from this cohort, with 32% of respondents self-identifying as “being” or “having been” a teacher. Of this group, 19% said they instructed on the same topic as the online course in which they participated, and 16% achieved course certification.


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