Published article: Refining success and dropout in MOOCs

My first article, which is published in Distance Education a peer-reviewed journal of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia, is now available online, open access of courseJ

In this article, we propose an alternative way of looking at MOOC success. We reason that, as MOOCs provide an entirely different learning context, it does not make sense to use the same success measurements as in traditional learning contexts which are generally end qualifications in the form of diploma’s or certificates.

Success assessment in MOOCs should take the MOOC-taker as a starting point. For example, if a MOOC-taker just wants to finish the first three modules of the MOOC and he or she does indeed finish these three modules, this is considered a success and not a failure because this MOOC-taker did not get the certificate. Following our reasoning, we defined three different types of MOOC-takers:

  1. MOOC-takers who do as they intended to do (success)
  2. MOOC-takers who do less than they intended to do (dropout/failure)
  3. MOOC-takers who do more than they intended to do (drop-in/success)

The MOOC-takers who do as they intended or do more than they intended are considered successful according to our perspective. A small explorative study provided us with some numbers to back up our proposed theoretical approach. We invited MOOC-takers of two different MOOCs to participate in a pre- and post-survey with questions about their intentions at the start of the MOOC, and actual behaviour after the MOOC was finished. Furthermore, we collected registration- and certificate earning numbers of both MOOCs. We then analysed the data taking on both the currently used certificate-centric perspective as well as the individual MOOC-taker perspective.


As can be seen in the figures, the difference in success and failure rates when comparing the perspectives is quite substantial. Of course, there are limitations that have to be taken into account and further research is a must, but by proposing this view on addressing MOOC success and dropout we aim to create awareness about the importance of the perspectives of the MOOC-takers when assessing the extraordinary learning context of MOOCs.

This, in a nutshell, is what the article is about. The full article can be accessed via

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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