Penn GSE AHEAD

Life Cycle of a Million MOOC Users

Much attention has focused on the impressive number of individuals who are enrolling in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). But little is known about the life cycle of these enrollments, including the pattern of persistence beyond initial enrollment to course completion. Without this knowledge, it is not clear how to productively assess access or success, or how to understand the forces that influence student progress through these courses. This project is designed to address this knowledge gap by producing a map of the basic ecology of the first-generation of MOOC enrollments and identifying key user-transition points. This project will produce a map of the basic ecology of the initial wave of MOOCs by studying the progression of users through the 17 Coursera courses offered by the University of Pennsylvania between June 2012 and June 2013.The analyses will also explore differences in the patterns of progression on various attributes of Coursera course offerings. Potentially relevant course dimensions include course length, course requirements, course content, and more. Establishing a framework for describing and monitoring user behavior is a necessary building block for any empirical examination of the role of MOOCs in increasing access to and efficiency of higher education. The results of this descriptive but foundational research may also inform the design of future MOOC offerings, guide the revision of existing courses, help institutions assess the viability of MOOC courses, and inform user-selection of courses.

Funder 

Athabasca University (with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Researcher 

Laura Perna, Penn GSE Alan Ruby, Penn GSE Robert Boruch, Penn GSE

Research Team 

Nicole Wang, Chad Evans, Janie Schull, and Seher Ahmad

Advisory Board 

Kevin Bell, Meg Benke, and Wallace Boston

Press Coverage 

Click here to view all Press Coverage for this project.

Inside Higher Ed, June 10, 2014: Data, data, everywhere. 

The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2014: Can MOOCs and Universities Co-Exist? 

Bloomberg News, January 14, 2014: Massive Online Education Gets Less Massive 

Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 29, 2013: Faculty Protest Reforms They Say ‘Dumb Down’ Higher Ed

The Wall Street Journal, December 27, 2013: MOOCs: Inflated Expectations, Early Disappointments

The Atlantic, December 26, 2013: ‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

The Washington Post, December 12, 2013: Are MOOCs already over?

KQED/NPR Radio, December 12, 2013: Reevaluating the Future of Online Education

Bloomberg Businessweek, December 12, 2013: MIT Sloan Follows Wharton, HBS in Offering MBA Courses Online

PBS NewsHour, December 11, 2013: Dan Ariely: At $61k a Year, College is a Bargain

The New York Times, December 10, 2013: After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought

Education Week, December 6, 2013: Student Persistence Low in MOOCs With Higher Workloads, Study Finds

Inside Higher Ed, December 6, 2013: Confirming the MOOC Myth

The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 6, 2013: Thousands sign up for free online courses, but few complete

Additional Coverage

The Daily Tar Heel, January 8, 2014: New online courses should be improved before wide use

India Tech Online, January 1, 2014: Much ado about MOOC?

The Pioneer, January 1, 2014: Road to Online Education

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, January 1, 2014: Higher education issues eclipsed by local and state news in 2013

FreeNewsPos.com, December 26, 2013: ‘We Are Creating Walmarts of Higher Education’

CIO.in, December 26, 2013: Getting it Wrong: The Worst Tech Predictions of 2013

Business Insider, December 25, 2013: $61,000 A Year for College Is Actually A Bargain

ITWorld, December 24, 2013: The worst tech predictions of 2013 – and two that hit the mark

The Davis Enterprise, December 19, 2013: After setbacks, online courses are rethought

Dice, December 18, 2013: MOOCs Get ‘F” in Delivering on Promise

The Redding Record Searchlight, December 18, 2013: Massive online courses pose possibilities but also concerns for professors 

SmartPlanet, December 15, 2013: Only Four Percent Complete Massive Open Online Courses: Setback or Growing Pains?

The Denver Post, December 13, 2013: Limerick: Nurturing students in a digital world

Minglebox, December 13, 2013: Varsities revise MOOCs to counter fading interest

EdCentral, December 12, 2013: Pay No Attention to Supposedly Low MOOC Completion Rates

Rhode Island Public Radio, December 12, 2013: Study Questions Use of MOOCs

Reason, December 12, 2013: Are the Poor Completion Rates of Online College Courses Really a Problem?

Vide en el Valle, December 12, 2013: Massive online courses pose possibilities but also concerns for professors

The Charlotte Observer, Decemeber 11, 2013: Massive online courses pose possibilities but also concerns for professors

FreeNewsPos.com, December 11, 2013: Are MOOCs Really a Failure?

FreeNewsPos.com, December 11, 2013: Study finds few students complete free online courses

The Rundown, December 11, 2013: Dan Ariely: At $61k a Year, College is a Bargain

Idaho Statesman, December 11, 2013: Online courses are rethought after setbacks 

The Register-Guard, December 10, 2013: After Setbacks, Online Courses Are Rethought

GoEducation.net, December 5, 2013: Hundreds of thousands pointer adult Penn’s giveaway online courses, though few complete

Publications 

Perna, L., Ruby, A., Boruch, R., Wang, N., Scull, J., Ahmad, S. & Evans C. (2014, Dec 2) Moving Through MOOCs: Understanding the Progression of Users in Massive Open Online CoursesEducational Researcher. 

Perna, L., Ruby, A., Boruch, R., Wang, N., Scull, J., Ahmad, S., & Evans, C. (2014, May 12). Sequential Flow. Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Life cycle of a million MOOC users. 

Ruby, A. (2014, May). Heavy weather: Fiscal Clouds and MOOC Waves in the Sunshine State. Times Higher Education.

Perna, L. W., & Ruby, A. (2014, May 1). Cautious towards MOOCs. ScienceGuide.

Policy Briefs

Perna, L. W., Ruby, A., Boruch, R., Wang, N., Scull, J., Ahmad, S., & Evans, C. (2014, May 5). "Sequential flow." Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Life cycle of a million MOOC users.

Publications

Perna, L., Ruby, A., Boruch, R., Wang, N., Scull, J., Ahmad, S., & Evans, C. (2014, May 12). Sequential Flow. Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Life cycle of a million MOOC users. .
Perna, L. W., Ruby, A. (2014, May). Heavy weather: Fiscal Clouds and MOOC Waves in the Sunshine State. Times Higher Education.
Perna, L. W., Ruby, A. (2014, May). Cautious towards MOOCs. ScienceGuide.

Policy Briefs

Perna, L. W., Ruby, A., Boruch, R., Wang, N., Scull, J., Ahmad, S., & Evans, C. (2014, May 5). "Sequential flow". Excerpt from unpublished manuscript, Life cycle of a million MOOC users..

Presentations

Perna, L. W.   (2014, March). Promoting college access and success for all students: The promise of new technology.  Invited presentation for Penn Alumni Retreat, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA.
Perna, L. W.   (2014, March). MOOCs: Education’s holy grail or the great illusion?. Seminar for the 25th International Conference on College Teaching and Learning, Jacksonville, FL.
Perna, L.W., & Ruby, A. (2013, December 5). Life cycle of a million MOOC users. MOOC Research Initiative, Arlington, Texas.