Sunday, July 21, 2013

MOOC Fail?

In the middle of breathless hype about MOOCs' disruptive potential, Udacity and San Jose State University offered a set of online courses earlier this year. The results are in, and they don't look good: [San Jose State University] Suspends Online Classes After More Than Half the Students Fail. Will Oremus adds:

Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun ... told the AP that the failure rates in the five classes ranged from 56 to 76 percent. Nor was the course material exactly rocket science—the five classes were in elementary statistics, college algebra, entry-level math, introduction to programming, and introduction to psychology.

Thrun did note that 83 percent of students had completed the classes, a far higher rate than is typical for the free, open courses that have come to be known as MOOCs. Why so many failed is not fully clear, though the AP cites “officials” saying that a lot of the students who signed up had little college experience or were working full-time while taking the classes.

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Update: See also: Udacity Project on 'Pause' at Inside Higher Ed.


  1. L said...

    That many students failed is not an indication that the course has failed. People sign up for online courses due to an initial enthusiasm that may not be sustainable in their lives. They are also free of cost. I have signed up for MOOCs and not got past the first assignments. There is no need for me to do a course in, say, calculus and so I am not pressured enough to continue. I have also not paid any money- so that is also not a pressure on me. It's like the various hobbies one takes up in childhood....3 months of stamp collecting, 20 days of guitar classes and so on.
    One drops the online course, or in slightly more pressured people, continue to do the course with very little interest and hence fail.

  2. Abi said...

    @L: The SJSU-Udacity courses were not free. The students taking the courses online actually paid some money, and were taking them for academic credit. According to Inside Higher Ed, "This spring, Udacity and San Jose State offered three online for-credit math courses for $150 to 100 students per course. Of those students, half were San Jose State students and the other half were un-enrolled students who might have come from high schools or the military."

    Also, the student performance comparison is a direct one, between in-class students and those taking the courses online. IHE reports that "74 percent or more of the students in traditional classes passed, while no more than 51 percent of Udacity students passed any of the three courses."