How education providers are responding to low MOOCs completion rates

Many education providers are using several tactics to help improve completion rates.

By U2B Staff 

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With COVID-19 upending life as we know, online learning is having its moment in the sun. 

MOOCs, or massive open online courses, can offer busy professionals some respite thanks to these courses’ flexible and affordable nature when compared to postgraduate programmes.


While postgraduate courses are held in high regards by employers, the economic uncertainty may mean that this option could be out of reach for those who don’t feel confident about shelling out thousands for a postgraduate degree in an uncertain job market.

Benefits of MOOCs

MOOCs are offered for free or at a low-cost and can be completed at your own pace, making it useful for busy professionals to upskill themselves in targeted areas without spending too much time — or money — on the endeavour. 

Contrary to what some may think about online learning, MOOCs are not static. They also have interactive sessions and forums for students to participate in and engage with other students.

Another benefit of MOOCs is there are typically no stringent requirements, such as English proficiency tests or academic transcripts, making it accessible to anyone and everyone with internet access.

Many MOOC providers such as edX, Coursera and Udacity offer several courses for free or at discounted rates, making it more affordable for the masses. 

Do employers see the values of MOOCs? 

A 2018 study published by Northeastern University found that while degrees still have great value in the hiring process, microcredentials and new hiring practices are beginning to change the equation

Employer awareness and experience with candidates who hold non-degree microcredentials is still relatively low — microcredentials are typically viewed as supplements, rather than substitutes, for traditional degrees.

“Given the conservative nature of the hiring and educational credentialing processes, the acceptance of innovative new products and practices is arguably occurring at more of an evolutionary pace rather than as a shift that is happening overnight,” said the report.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study suggested MOOCs are unlikely to transform higher education, but they will unlikely disappear entirely.

“Rather, they will provide new supports for specific niches within already existing education systems, primarily supporting already educated learners,” it said.

So while not all employers may be on the MOOCs bandwagon yet, shifts in perspectives over their benefits are gradually improving.

Improving completion rates

Despite the benefits of MOOCs, researchers from the same MIT study have found that MOOCs had low completion rates, which has not improved over six years.

In response to that, the Financial Times reported that many education providers are using several tactics to help improve completion rates.

edX, for instance, tracks how frequently students watch videos and submit assignments and uses the data to “nudge” them into finishing modules by sending updates and reminders to complete tasks.

edX senior director of academics and research Nina Huntemann was quoted saying that engagement is 30% higher when students have been nudged. 

“If they struggle on a course section, it might be because the material is not worded clearly enough, or videos are too long,” she said. “Our university partners use that data to produce course iterations.”

Wharton Online senior director Anne Trumbore said completion rates are the wrong measure of success, adding that many people register or start online courses because they are curious and never intend to stick it out.


This was also echoed by Huntemann, who said a better indicator of success is whether students who actually begin a course engage with it to a high degree.

“We don’t see completion rates being a goal,” she said. “People poke around to find parts of courses that help them, not necessarily every module.”

Interactivity can also play a role in boosting completion rates, with some institutions see improvements when students can apply the theoretical concepts to practical scenarios.

FutureLearn, an online course provider owned by the Open University, focuses on peer learning to support completion rates to make online learning less of a solitary experience. Students have opportunities to discuss what they have learnt and shared knowledge on the company’s social network.