You have probably heard that completion rates are one of the bigger problems of MOOCs. According to a study made by HarvardX and MITx, in the first four years of the edX MOOC platform there were 4.5 million participants and 245 thousand obtained a certificate.

That’s a total of only 5.5% students who actually got a credential for the online courses they took.

This data could deceive you from what MOOCs are supposed to do. We need to start questioning, as some people have already suggested in the past, if course completion is the right way of measuring the success of a MOOC.

We also discussed this with Dana Doyle, Director of the MITx program, at the MOOC-Maker International Conference. We asked her if the completion rate was still an issue and she didn’t think so because people do what they want to do with MOOCs. For her, it is more a matter of What are people doing with than what they are getting?

If you look at some of the most amazing cases of people who have found success taking MOOCs, you´ll find certain skills they show in order to stand out like digital fluency, information literacy, contribution, motivation, collaboration and leadership. The success of the “5% completion rate” people lies, therefore, in what you want to do with MOOCs.

The real challenge is reaching more people

Looking at the type of audiences taking MOOCs today, there are many people who already have degrees, and, in general terms, this is not the people who have less or none access to education at all.

So, MOOCs are being used by people who commonly have access to education. Dana mentioned that even though lifelong learning is something everyone should be participation in, the originally vision of MOOCs was centered in the idea of education for everybody.   

That is a huge challenge of MOOCs today. Certainly, all the institutions and platforms have made education more accessible, however, there is a significant amount of people that still don´t know about MOOCs.

“I don’t know if it is a marketing issue, or having to spend more time and energy on finding these pockets of people who can use the material we provide. I´ve run into prospective students who don’t know they can prepare to get into MIT by taking online courses, however, I think it is up to us getting the word out and trying to find and innovate in ways to reach more people”, Dana mentioned.

The Importance of earning valuable credentials

It is important that you can prove your knowledge and skills. Depending on your education field and the courses taken, it could just be all about creating a powerful portfolio, however, a credential is often required when it comes to validate a University degree or finding a job in a company that asks you for it.

Today, you can show a certificate of a course you passed and put it on your resumé, however, you´ll find out that cheating is fairly easy in a free open course. So, Dana told us about the value of a MicroMaster credential and how she consider it to be a game changer, as they required to have proctored exam in them, whether virtual or in-person.

According to Dana, “In order to get the MicroMaster credential you need first to have 4-5 courses, including a proctored exam, and that’s an enormous amount of work. I cannot image someone who has gotten all the way there, to this exam, and tries to cheat. So, I think those credentials because they are backed up by that proctored exam have a lot more weight to them. Best of all, they are accepted for school credits”.

In conclusion, instead of measuring the success of MOOCs by the number of people finishing the courses they take, we should start thinking about what is people actually  getting out of online education, without forgetting about the idea of spreading the knowledge for everybody.