edX's New Working Papers Find MOOC Data Misleading

READ BETWEEN THE (DATA) LINES: Today appears to be a day of announcements for MOOC providers--first Coursera, now edX. Today, MIT and Harvard announced their release of a series of working papers on 17 of their edX MOOCs from the 2012/2013 years. The working papers include details about each MOOC that collectively offer several key conclusions about MOOCs as a tool and practice. MIT News reports key takeaways, including:

  1. MOOC completion rates can be misleading and may at times be counterproductive indicators of the impact of open online courses.
  2. Attrition happened predominately right after students registered for a course. On average, 50% of registrants left a week or two after enrolling; following that time, attrition rates decreased. (The average probability of a student leaving in the second week dropped to 16%.)
  3. Read between the lines when it comes to demographics. For example, the most common course registrant in these 17 courses was a male with a bachelor’s degree, and age 26+. However, that describes fewer than one in three registrants for these MOOCs (about 31%).
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