MOOC quality

MOOCs – question on purpose, quality, student retention, feedback, etc.

Ahh, questions around the purpose, quality, value, etc. in and around MOOCs have started again, and justly so.

  • Disclaimer: Like many I have opinions, but not answers.

The recently raised questions, started by Fred Riley on the ALT mailing list, have produced a good set of resources for those of us who are starting to ask these questions, needing a more comprehensive or value-added answer.

Fred’s original query was:


Does anyone on this list know of any recent research and/or articles on the teaching quality of MOOCs? I’m thinking of things such as:

  • student retention, with MOOC drop-out rates being notoriously high (I plead guilty to that myself :( )
  • student surveys and qualitative feedback
  • how many students in a MOOC platform (eg FutureLearn) go on to take further courses in that platform

I’m sure that there are many other indicators of quality – those are just off the top of my head. I’m not in the MOOC game myself as yet, other than as a punter, but I’m looking to get into the development side of things.


In some instances, especially around the data of students/learners taking further courses (across MOOC platform providers as well as within) is difficult, but I hope we can get to a stage where this kind of data is available and open to interrogation (if only for the individual partner to  query their own courses).

Here are some of the resources shared, in response to Fred’s original query:

If you have any further links or resources that would help Fred and the ALT mailing list, please reply to the thread on the mailing list. If you don’t have access then please leave the link or your comment below for everyone to have the opportunity to read.

Yes, OK. Fred’s question also raises the question around the ‘quality’ of a MOOC, the validity in the data of learner retention or ‘steps completed’ as triggers for saying a MOOC is of a certain quality, or the student was ‘successful’ on the course, but these are for another post. Fred answered this quite clearly on the ALT mailing list that, for him “retention is IMO and indicator of quality as perceived by the student – the better retention, the more students are engaged with the course and its materials. If they don’t like a course, they’ll drop out.”

NB: I’ve helped run several runs of the Warwick/FutureLearn ‘Shakespeare and his World’ MOOC and use this as an example I use where the statistics provided for the 10 week course don’t necessarily match the actual experience. Case in point is the number of learners who complete the course, in that they take all the tests and mark at least one step as complete in each of the 10 weeks. We know from the learners themselves, from their comments, feedback, tweets, etc., that they take what they want from the course – one learner may only like Shakespeare’s comedy’s, another likes on his tragedy’s, so they will omit the plays/weeks they don’t like. They should still be viewed as a successful learner, and I’;m sure they think that of themselves, as in their own mind (and in ours!) they got what they wanted from the course, yet did not actually ‘complete’ it.

If there is one question for 2016 and MOOCs, it’s whether there is any way to really truly, honestly, understand the ‘value’ of a MOOC?

Image source: State Library Victoria (CC BY-NC 2.0)