The Motivation to Complete a MOOC

Previously, I mentioned several websites that offer free courses such as Coursera. A recent article in The Conversation examines MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and their reputations for having high drop-out rates. (I found this article through Rosie’s blog as she works on designing her MOOC.) Honestly, I never completed any of the MOOCs I enrolled in. My excuse for dropping out was simply that I never found a clear outline of what work needed to be completed when, of what quizzes were due when, etc. As a result, I often found myself behind in the lectures and readings, as well as missing quiz/assignment deadlines because they were never really communicated well. I can see what the article talks about, though–the lack of accountability doesn’t help stir up any motivation to complete a course. I can see how it would be especially difficult for somebody who isn’t already a student (especially someone who hasn’t been a student in a long time) to find motivation within themselves to keep up with the course demands.

If there’s one change I’d personally like to see in future MOOCs, it would be a syllabus released at the start of the course with a list of videos, readings, etc. that need to be completed by date X. This would have allowed me to plan sufficiently to keep up with the demands of the course. I’m glad to see several courses have added weekly time commitment estimates, but I still think a completed syllabus at the beginning would be especially useful.

For students who are having problems finding the motivation to keep up with the course material, I would suggest getting a group of friends together who are interested in doing a course (or meet people via the forums who live in the same area who would be interested in collaborative learning) and meet on a weekly basis (or bi-weekly, or whatever sounds best to the group) to discuss assignments, lecture material, etc. This would force group members to have gone through the material ahead of time, and I think could be a useful (albeit not flawless) source of accountability for people.

What do you guys think about MOOCs? Have you experienced any motivational problems in completing a course?