Posted by: crudbasher | September 26, 2012

When Is A 90% Dropout Rate A Success?

I was reading this article on ArsTechnica (a great tech site btw) where they were talking about using MongoDB to power the EdX Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) venture from MIT and Harvard. What struck me was these two quotes.

The first is from the writer Sean Gallagher.

“Harvard and MIT officially launched the EdX project in May, and both schools have committed over $30 million to the nonprofit collaboration. MIT offered a preview of the platform in March when it offered a free basic course on electronics and circuits, which initially enrolled over 100,000 students—though only 10,000 stuck with the class through the midterm exam.”

(cc) alexkess

So only 10,000 stuck with it? That is phrased in a negative way isn’t it? A 90% dropout rate in any typical college class would be considered a disaster but I submit that MOOCs are different. The course is free and you don’t get a degree from taking it, just a certificate. This means people are signing up for it just because they are curious. They try it for a while and then most drop out because it wasn’t what they wanted. The rest stuck with it and learned something.

Even with a 90% drop rate, that’s still 10,000 students taught cheaply, all at once, by just a few teachers. That sort of productivity improvement is typical of industries that are transformed by the Internet but so far higher education has been somewhat immune. I think that is now changing.

The second quote comes from the VP of Education for the company creating MongoDB.

“We’re on target to train 1,000 people in the last year,” he said. “But in the last few days we’ve had 4,000 people sign up for the developer and DBA courses. There’s been a pent up demand for a certification program.”

When supply is low, pent up demand causes two things to arise; high prices and alternatives.

In keeping with my theme of the week, ask yourself the following: do students who take a regular college class have different expectations as opposed to these students taking the MOOC class?



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