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Report: Course Topic Biggest Motivator for MOOC Participation

Course topic is the biggest motivating factor for participants in massive open online courses (MOOCs) and quality of the learning experience is the main reason they complete the courses or quit early, according to a new survey performed by Qualtrics.

Thirty-five percent of respondents told researchers that course topic was their main motivator in taking a MOOC, with personal or professional development and the fact that the courses are free rounding out the top three at 24 and 16 percent, respectively.

Among respondents who started a MOOC but did not complete it, 29 percent said they quit because the learning experience wasn't what they expected. Twenty-nine percent also said they quit because they were too busy to finish.

Approximately two-thirds of those surveyed said they'd be more likely to complete a MOOC if they would receive a certificate or transferable college credit for doing so, and 10 percent of respondents who had failed to complete one said a lack of incentive was the main reason they quit.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • Sixty percent of respondents said they expected to participate in course discussions at the beginning of a MOOC, compared to 72 percent reporting that they actually did so;
  • Among respondents who completed a MOOC, 24 percent said they were highly engaged in course discussions, compared to only three percent among those who did not complete;
  • Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed held a bachelor's degree or higher and 42 percent said they were educators;
  • Approximately two-thirds of respondents reported an annual income of $50,000 or less and 75 percent said that the free nature of MOOCs was a primary reason they enrolled;
  • About a third of those surveyed had taken MOOCs on more than one platform; and
  • Among those who had taken more than one MOOC, 75 percent told researchers that they considered their MOOC experience successful.

"This study confirms that for MOOCs to be a relevant part of education's future, they must offer a more compelling experience than the traditional college course," said Misty Frost, chief marketing officer at Instructure, in a prepared statement. "The popularity of MOOCs shows an appetite for learning in the open online format, but these courses are competing for attention in an age of digital entertainment and social media. Simply replicating the lecture model of instruction in a MOOC doesn't facilitate the educational experience needed to sustain engagement."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is the multimedia editor for Campus Technology and THE Journal. He can be reached at jbolkan@1105media.com.

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