ExtensionEngine Blog

Why MOOCs Need Better LxD

MOOCs really ought to be taking the educational world by storm. They cost less (and are often free), they are much more convenient in terms of transportation / sartorial challenges, and best of all, there's no chance of being called on in class when you haven't read the material.

So why are MOOC completion rates sitting at around four-to-five percent? That's the range in the latest study from Harvard and MIT, which supports similar statistics from research by the Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

There are many reasons for the overall completion rate, some known (like the fact that classes are free and why bother finish) and others yet to be discovered. But even accounting for that, the rate of growth in the use of MOOCs appears to be slowing. At 6.1 percent, the growth rate for MOOCs has hit the lowest point ever and is dropping rapidly from the 21.1 percent growth rate of three years ago, according to a Babson Research study.

However, institutions that are using MOOCs remain very positive about their ability to deliver quality learning outcomes. It is important to note that the same Babson study reported that the number of academic leaders who are rating MOOCs as the same or better than classroom courses has jumped from 57 percent to 74 percent over the past decade.

MOOCs are not going away, but they certainly need to improve. MOOCs have enormous potential, especially for corporate learning environments where employee groups are spread across different cities or even time zones. The essential problem may not be with the content of MOOCs or that students treat them as disposable, but merely with the LxD. In an earlier post, we discussed the importance of LxD, or Learner Experience Design, which represents the intersection of user experience and instructional design. Now, students at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign are taking a closer look at this question in an ongoing study titled “Can User Experience Design help increase MOOC completion rates?”

Their preliminary research shows that, “some of these MOOC providers have already acknowledged the importance of UX and are moving forward in this direction.” They point to the fact that Udacity has brought on the former head of user experience and design at Google. Also, Coursera has hired one of the user experience experts from Netflix.

The question of what's really going on with MOOCs has plenty of room for debate, but there is no arguing that LxD is among the most critical factors in the days to come.