#change11 Decreasing Engagement in MOOCs

Course facilitators and critics are unsettled about the increasing drop-out rate in MOOCs. Being far from active this time myself, I want to share my view of the critiques summarized by Jenny.

The drop rate — comparing the thousands of registered users with the few visible participants who regularly contribute postings, the drop rate seems indeed alarming. But I would be cautious with both figures: Registered for something completely free, does not necessarily mean more than “Let’s have a look into this shop window and pass on”. Of course it is an unsettling challenge to traditional quantitative research that really nobody has even a rough idea about how many registrants intended to do more and what these are doing now. But in any case, participation cannot be measured on an “all or nothing” basis (which should not surprise connectivists who embrace just these kinds of membership connections that are (Wikipedia:) not all of equal strength (= 1). Who are those who “fall by the wayside” ? Those who do not regularly contribute in the strict sense of E. Duval ? Then I am guilty, too, but I think I have engaged a lot with the matter already when I was just considering another posting. And even if I am only skimming some of the resources, I think I should not count as a drop-out. But I agree that the share of visible contributors has slightly decreased since CCK08.

Many of the analyses of the problem focus around the difficulty of finding orientation and the appropriate reading. For example, point 3 and 4 of Jenny’s summary: too much going on (no stigmergy possible), and too much choice (opportunity costs). And Jon Dron complains about the Daily (“what gets aggregated is presented as a single, flat stream of content”) and pleads for collaborative filtering (“to draw attention to to things that are more interesting”).

  • Too much going on (no stigmergy possible): I think the main reason why too much seems to be going on, is the derivative activity of retweeting, “like”ing, or reposting, to draw attention to interesting things. If somebody has for the first time bothered to write some original content and this is buried among loads of derivative content, s/he might be frustrated. If I understood “stigmergy” correctly, it is just this kind of drawing of attention.
  • Too much choice (opportunity costs). If one thinks of the opportunity costs “(imagining that other choices would have been better)” of selecting some content out of the massive diversity, s/he is probably not interested in the benefits of autonomous, arbitrary picking but eventually more in optimized Nuremberg funneling of knowledge?
  • The single flat stream of aggregation. But the Daily is not the only means of aggregation, it is just the only one for those wanting guidance. I also have great problems with that flat format, and I am glad that Stephen offers the OPML file that I can structure as I want. (However, I fully agree with Jon Dron that more programming is required and in particular his point “visualisation – … tools to help show threads, …”.)

Besides these points about finding one’s reading, there is a major focus on more structure and parcellation. Here I just tersely say that this goes completely against my sense of connectedness of the various concepts, which is, after all, one of the layers of connectivism.

But even if all the above obstacles for reading orientation were removed, this would not yet increase the writing of more contributions. I do want to share my speculations about the reason for this, but beware, it is unfinished, messy and questionable.

In previous MOOCs the 2-3 main facilitators were slightly more in the foreground, and they modeled and demonstrated their own thinking about the emergent connectivism. These concepts and the resulting teaching appeared as, if not messy, then somewhat unfinished, and hence encouraged a similarly messy learning to be openly shared by the participants.

In this MOOC, by contrast, I have the impression that many of the weekly speakers appear as experts whose opinion is more settled and tends to intimidate learners from uttering possible discomfort or objections. Even in Stephen and George’s institutions, research about connectivist phenomena seems already more scientifically settled. (Albeit it is perhaps shortened to selected aspects of the social level, cleanly dissected abstract concepts, or observeable behavioral data, at least compared to the kind of connectivism that I once enthusiasticly welcomed as a whole new view like the Renaissance — but that is an aside). Anyway, our writing as learners will be messy as learning always is, and it is slightly harder to mess up with settled experts. Perhaps aggravating is that each week there is a new expert, although it is great that so many experts are volunteering for us.

Another difference to previous MOOCs can probably be subsumed under deliverable artefacts. Previously there were assignments of short papers, a final project, and continuous updating of Cmaps or similar. Although I was never signed up for credit, their due dates helped “structuring” my free-time activities, and I miss these MOOC components.

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4 Responses to #change11 Decreasing Engagement in MOOCs

  1. Hi Matthias – this is an interesting post – thank you 🙂

    > Besides these points about finding one’s reading, there is a major focus on more structure and parcellation. Here I just tersely say that this goes completely against my sense of connectedness of the various concepts, which is, after all, one of the layers of connectivism.

    I wonder, if you have time, whether you could explain further why the ideas of structure and parcellation don’t fit with your understadning of connectivism.

    Jenny

  2. I wonder if this MOOC has accidentally slipped into the universe of Big Theory and Famous Presenter Knows All? Week after week we are confronted with a new yet completely resolved version of the world ahead. Why participate in something that is finished and closed around itself? Or feels that way anyway.

    My interest in MOOCs has always been in the up-front declaration that we are in an in an era where knowing is replaced by finding out. This is an uncomfortable place that may function at smaller participant level simply because openly declaring sustained uncertainty is hard to do in large groups.

    How do we get the benefits of big numbers of minds working on big subjects into the closeness and safety of small groups? Groups that may draw more people in as participants as a result.

  3. x28 says:

    Scott, I like your description of your interest in MOOCs. Also thanks for pointing to another difficulty of openness which I had not thought of before. Probably it can only be solved together with the open facilitators.

    Jenny, what disturbs me of the notion of parcellation structure is that it sounds like allotment gardens which, over here, are the symbol of narrowmindedness. For me, connectivism promises to overcome the overdone compartmentalization mindset by emphasizing that, beyond hierarchical tree structures and subdivisions, concepts are connected by network links of varying strengths. For the discussions in a MOOC this means that the complexity of abundant diverse views should not be blinded out by retreating into closer groups. Of course, going into depth with a given discussion will not happen in the “plenum” ballroom but in subsets as depicted here.

  4. Nick Kearney says:

    Interesting the idea of “falling by the wayside”. I am not sure where the “wayside” is. Where are the boundaries, and what price “legitimate peripheral participation”? What does the C in MOOC stand for? Course, collective, community? How much is our understanding regulated by notions that we may be taking for granted such as, for example “expert”, “follow”, “structure” or even “contribution”. Perhaps these need reexamining in this context.
    Perhaps the challenge (from the point of view of the slightly quaint, to me, idea of a drop out in a free MOOC) is that our measures for evaluating “success” seem to assume some kind of cohort of learners that can be measured. I find dipping into the flow intensely stimulating, and useful. But I do it very sporadically. How would my behaviour mesh with conventional measures of participation? I am not sure what measures would work. I suspect I may fall under the radar, but I am finding this MOOC very valuable. Out here on the periphery!!
    The vocabulary we use to discuss these issues is perhaps impossibly bounded by the our expectations of what we feel a course is, and what a MOOC should, or might be. It is perhaps hard to step outside the boxes we use.
    To give an example, I make this comment because the act of writing is useful, helps me to frame my thinking, and the questions I am musing about.
    I guess to do it here is unorthodox, if there is an orthodoxy in MOOCs. According to the advice on the website, I should perhaps write about it on my blog. And have a Change blog. I should plan it more, give it structure, drag whoever is listening over there to “my” blog. However that I think would be a different kind of message. Here is good. It is a response, of a kind to this particular post.

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