Dear Commons Community,
EdSurge reported on Thursday that MIT professor Justin Reich and colleagues just completed one of the largest-ever research studies exploring teaching techniques in online higher education, involving nearly 250,000 students from nearly every nation across the globe.
The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, was meant to show that small behavioral interventions, like asking students in a pre-course survey to describe when and how they planned to fit the required course work into their lives, would significantly improve completion rates in large MOOC-style online classes.
The team thought it would be a slam dunk. Their previous research with smaller numbers of courses and students found impressive results, with the “plan-making intervention” improving completion rates as much as 29 percent. “We thought this study was going to be six to nine months long, that we were going to get similar results and we were going to publish it and be heroes,” says Reich.
That’s not how things went, though. In a large-scale, years-long study with 250 courses running on the edX platform, the pre-planning intervention had no significant impact in overall completion rates. The intervention did correlate with increased course activity for a week or two, but the effect faded out over the length of the course. Other interventions the researchers tested in the experiment also failed to deliver the results found in smaller trials.
The scale and scope of this study is impressive but it must be remembered that large online MOOC courses are not the norm in higher education.
NOTE: The information on this study was forwarded to me by my colleague, Fred Lane.