Confessions of a Dropout

I’m a failure.

Over the past couple of years I’ve enrolled in four different MOOCs, and never completed any of them. Five if you count the one I tried twice. I dropped the most recent course before the first unit even began.

After attracting all kinds of hype in 2013, not to mention plenty of venture capital and the blessing of high profile business writers, why haven’t MOOCs been more successful for the students (aka clients/customers)? More importantly, why hasn’t the format worked for me?

Maybe I didn’t read the course description carefully enough and never should have registered in the first place. In at least one case the description didn’t match the content. I suppose the reason for my being a dropout could be that the MOOC format just isn’t appropriate for my temperament. Or I’m just a crappy student.

In any case I’m not alone in being a serial dropout.  One recent study found that only about 10% of MOOC students complete the requirements for a course. I’ve seen other research showing completion numbers above that but far south of 25%. And the research provides far more questions than answers.

For my personal experience with the format, it certainly is not about lack of experience or comfort with working online. I’ve taught1 “regular” online courses for three different organizations since 2000 and successfully completed many others as a student. Although, with 20 – 30 people in a class, none of them could be considered massive.

However, for me the size of the course didn’t matter as much as the community feeling. That element was missing in the MOOCs. The organizers of the courses always try to build participant interactions into their units but with thousands of people involved, those efforts always seemed forced, and even more awkward than many online discussions already are.

So, what does my experience with MOOCs mean to the future of the concept? Likely, very little. After all, successful businesses (including educational ones) have been built by servicing only 10% of the available customer base.

And there’s no reason why one particular delivery system for learning should meet the needs of every single student. Right, Sec. Duncan? Mr. Gates? Ms. Rhee? Bueller?


Photo from Flickr by the University of Iowa, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Or facilitated, or moderated, depending on the philosophy and language of the organization.

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