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Are You Ready to Take a MOOC and Succeed?

Recent research suggests some reasons why so few people are able to complete a MOOC and points to some techniques learners might use to boost their own chances of success.

MOOCs are notorious for low completion rates. Out of 100 enrollments, only 70 learners ever start the course, and less than 10 complete the course successfully. Recent research suggests some reasons why so few people are able to complete a MOOC and points to some learners might use to boost their own chances of success. This article draws from research that was presented at the EMOOCs 2019 Conference in a session titled “Self-regulation and MOOCs.”

There is a big difference between deciding to do something and actually doing it.
Agile Leadership Principles, University of Maryland via edX 

 Recent research on self-directed learning shows that more than half of all learners are not prepared to learn in a MOOC. One study measured MOOC readiness using a Self-Directed Learning Readiness Scale (SDLRS) with a focus on self-management, desire for learning, and self-control. According to that study, only 47.5% of learners are ready to take a MOOC.

Another study concluded that learners with stronger self-regulated learning skills are more active during MOOCs. They are more likely to revisit course materials and tend to use a more flexible approach to organize their learning process.

Research into the process of goal setting and achievement among MOOC learners looked at learner behavior during the four phases of the Rubicon Model: pre-decisional, pre-actional, actional, and post-actional. In the remainder of this article, I explore the Rubicon Model framework and propose a few tips for learners, based on the research on self-directed learning.

“What kind of actions do you undertake as a learner after you decide you want to gain certain knowledge or skills?” 

Phase #1: Pre-Decisional Phase

During the pre-decisional phase, as a potential MOOC-learner, you contemplate whether a MOOC fits your needs. You make a (first) decision about what you intend to do in the MOOC. Intentions range from browsing a few modules to completing the full course and earning a certificate. You may also have alternative goals such as connecting with other participants in the course or exploring possibilities to work with other organisations. Importantly, most learners intend to finish the MOOC.

Tips at this stage:

  • Take time to select your course. Look for alternatives, and choose the course that teaches the skills you need to learn.
  • Define your goals and write them down.
  • Choose which tools you will use to guide you through the self-directed learning process.These tools can be simply a notebook and pen, your favourite to-do app, or a dedicated app for MOOC learning. MOOCnager, a plug-in for the Google Chrome browser developed at Universidad Carlos III Madrid, helps learners set goals, organize their time, and reflect on their performance. The plug-in only works with edX MOOCs, but it is certainly worth a try.

Phase #2: Pre-Actional Phase

In the pre-actional phase you plan concrete strategies for achieving your set goals. You address issues such as when, where and how learning will take place and what action to take if something interferes with your initial planning, for example when assignments take longer than anticipated.

Tips at this stage:

  • Decide when to study for the MOOC. Will you study during the day? In the evenings? On weekends? Schedule your sessions. How many hours per week? Establish a weekly routine. Do you need to stop other activities to free up time for learning?
  • Decide where to study. Will you study at home? In the office? While commuting? Establish a suitable study environment free of distractions.
  • Anticipate issues that could hinder your learning and develop a plan for addressing them if they arise.

Phase #3: Actional Phase

During the actional phase you execute the plan you defined in the pre-actional phase. You complete the learning tasks, monitor your progress and strive to keep up your engagement and motivation. During this stage, various disturbances may delay or even prevent you from reaching your goals. Researchers divide these factors into “MOOC-related barriers” and “non-MOOC related barriers.” MOOC related barriers include lack of interaction, lack of instructor presence, and bad course content. Examples of non-MOOC related barriers include insufficient academic knowledge, lack of time, and technical issues such as poor internet connectivity or lack of digital skills.

Tips at this stage:

  • Revisit your goals weekly. Seek help from peers, instructors/teaching assistants, or external tutors.
  • Look at Learning How To Learn for effective learning techniques.
  • Find additional MOOC Motivation Hacks to keep you on task.

Phase #4: Post-Actional Phase

Finally, in the post-actional phase you evaluate whether you have reached your goals. Did you achieve what you intended to achieve? Did the course meet your expectations? Taking the time to assess your efforts can help you in future courses.

Tips at this stage:

  • Reflect on whether the MOOC met your expectations. Were you able to learn in the MOOC according to your plan? Are you satisfied with the knowledge you gained?
  • Define follow up actions. How can you practice the skills you learned?
  • Write a course review on Class Central to help others decide whether to take the course.

Most people who enroll in a MOOC only think about what happens during the “actional” phase.  However, preparation and reflection both contribute to learner success. Next time you enroll in a MOOC, consider using some of these research-based tips to expand your focus and increase your chances of completing the course!

Ronny De Winter Profile Image

Ronny De Winter

Ronny De Winter is an independent IT analyst / software engineer, living and working in Belgium. He graduated as an engineer more than 30 years ago. He continuously updates his skills, mainly via MOOCs.  A lifelong learning discipline and focus on continuous improvement helped him successfully complete more than 50 MOOCs.

Comments 3

  1. Muvaffak GOZAYDIN

    Please do not take into account the clickers to MOOCs.
    And please do not say that MOOCs are not followed .
    Since it is free anybody can click for the course .
    Now there are certificate fees .
    Please follow the certificate fee payers.
    How many of them finish .
    In 25 years I clicked more than 500 MOOCs .
    I did not finish even one .

    I just check the quality of the course presentation .

  2. Ivanne

    Hi Ronny,

    Thank you for this research update. I have read the study you mention when you write “only 47.5% of learners are ready to take a MOOC” because this figure struck me.

    However, the article says “following the rationale of the authors of the SDLRS, we conclude that a total score of greater than 112 indicates readiness for SDL [Self-Directed Learning]. We observed that the percentage of those who scored equal or higher than 112 (52,5%) is slightly higher than of those who scored below (47,5%).”

    So, according to this readiness scale, it seems that 52.5% of learners are ready to take a MOOC (whereas 47,5% are NOT).

    Would you agree with that?
    Best regards,

  3. Dhanya A R

    Really a useful material. We can follow the four phases and tips in our studies too. (Not only in MOOC Course). Thank you Sir.


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