Researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities studied the behaviour patterns of over 300 000 Coursera students, and found that simply measuring completion vs dropout rates leaves out a lot of information about how students interact with the course. 


The study shows that students join the courses with diverse learning goals and intentions. Many MOOC learners may not complete the entire course and its assignments, but they still engage with the material in various ways. 


The authors established a "taxonomy of engagement" that separates online learners into five different categories based on their engagement patterns. 


  • Bystanders are registered for the course, but their total activity is below a very low threshold.
  • Collectors primarily download lectures, but don't participate much.
  • Viewers watch lectures, handing in few if any assignments
  • Solvers hand in assignments for a grade, viewing few if any lectures
  • All-Rounders balance the watching of lectures with the handing in of assignments

In presenting ther findings, the researchers wrote:


"This range of engagement styles shows that while the issue of students 'dropping out' of MOOCs points to a genuine and important distinction in types of student activity, it is arguably a distiction being made at too superficial a level. Indeed, even asking whether a student 'completes' an online course is a question already based on the assumption that there is a single notion of completion." 


Area Of Interest: 

  • elearning_label_higher_education

Additional Documents: