Research: Facebook May Keep Students in MOOCs
Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have published a study that suggests students may be more likely to stick with massive
online courses (MOOCs) if they use Facebook.
Zheng, a former doctoral student
at Penn State and current research scientist at Microsoft led the research and said she found that
open course students were
more engaged on Facebook groups and preferred interacting more on the
media site than through the course tools. That may be good news for
instructors who, according to Zheng, get frustrated because 90 percent
students who enroll in MOOCs leave the course after less than two weeks.
media may provide another communication channel for
the students," Zheng said. "Current MOOC platforms do not include
features for students to work together or good conversation channels
students and between students and teachers."
with fellow students and teachers in Facebook
groups and other social media sites is sometimes easier than through
conventional course tools. One advantage of Facebook groups is that
to sign up with their real names while students can create fake
course message boards and forums.
also appreciate that Facebook offers several ways to
contact the professor, she said. They can reply to a post, like a post
send a private message. Students on Facebook groups can meet and chat
before the course starts and, in some cases, long after it ends.
Facebook replies and posts also tend to be better organized than
conversations, which can easily become buried among other posts,
often have information overload and they become
confused in the MOOC platform message forum," Zheng said. "For example,
same topic might be posted several times, but people won't be able to
For the study, the researchers collected data from three different
Coursera, a platform that hosts MOOCs, and from Facebook groups. They
that less than 10 percent of Coursera users posted content while 28
Facebook users were active in the three course groups. The research
by Zheng, also interviewed several MOOC instructors and students for
The findings were announced at the annual Association
for Computer Machinery Conference
on Learning at Scale at the University
of Edinburgh in Edinburgh, Scotland, in late
Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.