The MOOC Dropout – Investment, Value and Structure
Are you more likely to devote time to something that you have a financial investment in or something you haven’t invested anything in to start? For example, are you more likely to work hard to complete a course that cost you $1,000 up front or one that cost nothing up front? Most students are likely to put more time into the course that requires an investment.
A material and immediate investment that a student makes prior to a course can impact student actions, perspectives and outcomes of the course. Some could argue that the motivation to take a MOOC is because it will transfer toward a degree and/or prepare students for jobs that will possibly help increase their earning potentials. However, because the course is free, the pain or reward is not immediate. Dropping out along the way to take care of something else causes no real pain because the student doesn’t feel he/she is truly losing anything. On the flip side, the reward is not immediate; therefore, there is no loss of celebration. MOOCs in their current design require no front-end investment on the part of the student. While MOOC entrepreneurs are pondering how to make money off of this innovation, they must think through what the investment will be on the part of students prior to course start – even if that investment is not financial in nature.
Value and Structure Can Change the Game
However, what can offset the lack of front-end investment on the part of the student is value and what can streamline completion is structure. Students must understand the clear value of the courses and they must be designed in such a way that encourages them to persist. I’m currently in a doctoral program and while I enjoy every minute of the pedagogy, it is costing me a great deal of money and time away from family, friends, and personal pursuits. However, I do not want to drop out and lose my current investment and I understand the value of the degree as communicated by the program administration and perpetuated by the faculty. Additionally, the program is structured in such a way that I may feel lost if I get off schedule. The program has a cohort format and an Executive Leadership Development Program component. Both of those attributes contribute to the reasons I want to stay in the program and on track. If I skip a semester, I will have to start with a new cohort, and I will be out of sync with the leadership development component.
I read somewhere that people are more likely to acknowledge a dog in passing than a person. While I love getting to know people, I also value building relationships with a familiar group (such as my current cohort of students). In this model, we can support each other throughout the program rather than meeting new people each semester and losing the support and meaningful connections. In many ways the cohort and the dog are the same; there is a certain degree of freedom and comfort because one does not have to be too particular about impressions – a dog doesn’t care too much and neither do people who already know each other.