OpenFiction [Blog]

Who really cares about MOOC completion?

Posted in Evaluation, Mechanical MOOC, MOOC by scarsonmsm on February 28, 2013

This is a really interesting graphic on MOOC completion, showing rates ranging from 20% to 2%.  The data points the researcher (Katy Jordan at OU UK) pulls out are:

  • How big is the typical MOOC? – while an enrollment of 180,000 is often cited as the largest MOOC so far, 50,000 students enrolled is a much more typical MOOC size.
  • How many students complete courses? – completion rates can approach 20%, although most MOOCs have completion rates of less than 10%.
  • What factors might affect completion rate? – the way that the course is assessed may affect completion rates; the completion rates of courses which use automatic grading range from 4.6% to 19.2%, while the rates for courses which use peer grading range form 0.7% to 10.7%. This may present a greater challenge for teaching MOOCs in certain subjects.
  • Do more students drop out if courses are longer? – there does not appear to be a negative correlation between course length and completion rate, which is interesting as you might expect fewer students to ‘keep going’ and complete longer courses.

It’s great to see some data on completion rates, and this will certainly stir up more debate on the topic.

But one issue not addressed in the current discussion is who really cares about MOOC completion?  Certainly the groups offering them do, and educational researchers do.  A fair guess that many non-profit funders do as well.  Interestingly, though, some of the data coming out of the Mechanical MOOC Python course suggest that in the absence of extrinsic carrots like credit or certificates, learners may not.

In the eighth and final week of the class, we asked the 5,775 learners who signed up for the first iteration of the Python course a series of end of course questions; we received 21 partial and 61 complete responses. Assuming a survey completion rate of 3% (typical of what we see for MIT OCW surveys) and 5% (really good for an OCW survey) that would suggest a rough engaged population of learners (that is, still reading the e-mails we were sending out to structure the course) of between 2,733 and 1,640 people during the last week of the course.*

One question asked which was the last week of the course out of the eight they had completed.  Here’s the response:

MechMOOC Week complete

At the point of the survey, midway through the eighth week, 12.1% indicated they had completed the course and 13.8% had completed week 7.  If we assume 25% attrition from those that completed week 7, maybe 10.4% of the 13.8% would be expected to finish the course.  So in very rough numbers, 20.5% of the survey respondents might be expected to finish.

Apply that number to the estimated engaged population of learners above, and we can get very rough numbers of estimated completers:  560 – 336, or 9.7% – 5.8%. or somewhere in the mid to low range of MOOC out there, which might be expected, since we weren’t offering a certificate or other incentive for finishing.  Now there are plenty of places to take issue with the above numbers, and since our course set up doesn’t have a solid way of counting course completers, this really should be taken for the back-of-the-envelope analysis it is.  But…

What is really interesting to me here is the distribution of learners across the weeks completed.  There is a large cohort of students (68.9% of respondents) that reports most recently completing weeks 4-7, which is to say they progressed significantly through the course but most of them were not positioned to finish the course “on schedule.”

How do they feel about this?  Apparently pretty good.  Granted the n’s are painfully small here, but if you ask how successful they felt they were in the portions of the class they completed, most report being completely or mostly successful:

Success by week

Further, if you ask whether they feel prepared for further study based on what they had learned so far in the class, they likewise responded largely that they were very or somewhat prepared:


The data’s a little thin, yes, but this would seem to at least suggest that while MOOC providers and higher education commentators wring their hands about the completion rates of MOOC, the learners may not really care that much.  If they are learning for the sake of learning, they may be quite content to fit in what learning they can given the constraints of their lives and be happy with wherever they finish up.

There’s a great deal of excitement (and fear) over whether MOOCs will replace parts of the current higher education system, but right now I suspect most of the activity with MOOCs (as has been the case with OER more generally) is in extending educational opportunity beyond the current higher education system.  If this is the case, we may need some better metric for understanding student success and satisfaction than completion rate.

* Correlating data point:  The week 8 assignment e-mail recorded 1,929 opens through our e-mail system.

Saylor Foundation Executive Director

Posted in open education by scarsonmsm on February 12, 2013

I recently heard from Alana Harrington that she is leaving her post as Executive Director for the Saylor Foundation.  I’ll be sorry to see her take her leave, as she’s made tremendous contributions to the open education movement though her work there.  She’s heading up the search for her successor, so if anyone is interested, the position description is below.  Best of luck down the road, Alana!





The Saylor Foundation seeks an experienced, dynamic, self-motivated visionary leader to take on the position of EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of this Washington, DC 501(c)(3) organization.

About the Saylor Foundation
The Constitution Foundation (DBA The Saylor Foundation) was established in 1999 by Michael J. Saylor, the CEO of a leading business intelligence technology company, MicroStrategy. The Foundation is deeply involved as a leader and innovator in open education.  Its initiatives are at the forefront of developing  and structuring  online open educational resources, with the goal of increasing the accessibility of higher education and driving down the cost of higher education. The Foundation is committed to employing technology as a primary driver in spurring education advances. Read more about our organization and efforts in digital education in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in Forbes.

About the Free Education Initiative
Conceived as a way to organize web-based resources into a comprehensive, coherent, and useable body of courseware, now offers over 270 free online courses to anyone, anywhere with an internet connection.  The wealth of material available through, as extensive as that available from a college or university, is founded on a robust architecture and innovative method to build and disseminate free, high quality courses to those lacking access to traditional schooling.   Leveraging our resources through experimental approaches layered upon this proven methodology, we engage  dozens of experienced professors to build college-level, K-12, and professional development courses from high quality resources available on the Web. We readily partner with other institutions to expand the reach and distribution of our materials, participate as a launch partner of Google Course Builder and utilize I-Tunes University as one of many ways to reach our constituents.

Position Description

The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will operate under the guidance of and report directly to the Foundation Trustee, Michael J. Saylor, its General Counsel, and  Advisory Board .

The successful candidate is an individual who is comfortable with aggressive goals, as well as evolving products and action plans, and boasts excellent analytical skills, a strong attention to detail, and the ability to work well in a fast-paced team environment.  As an established leader in the field,  affords an exciting opportunity for candidates with an entrepreneurial spirit who like to create and innovate.  This person will be expected to think through and ultimately answer mission-critical questions for the organization. This role requires flexibility, as this individual will tackle a wide variety of projects with significant autonomy, and will build relationships internally across “departments” as well as externally.

The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will be responsible for a cutting-edge, open courseware program that has the potential to change the face of education. He or she will develop priorities for the organization based on the Trustee’s preferences, create and implement plans, and coordinate programmatic initiatives, technology, collaboration, and work efforts across the entire project. He or she will develop and maintain effective partnerships with external organizations to foster interoperability and cohesion within the open and digital education community. Directing a staff of 48 Full Time and Part Time Employees as well as over 400 independent contractors, the EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will manage the fiscal and human resources of the Foundation.  The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will lead the team in identifying targets, articulating core value propositions, closing deals, and growing existing partnerships to improve our product and expand our reach.

This position requires extensive experience in leading and cultivating communities and organizations, evidenced by an impressive professional track record and strong academic background. This position requires excellent leadership and communication skills, understanding of the traditional and nontraditional education systems, knowledge of open education programs and practices, and demonstrated effectiveness in managing staff and resources.

The successful candidate is poised, gregarious, and a natural born leader.  He or she is an excellent and comfortable presenter and networker and thrives in the public eye.   The EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR will be expected to detect changes in the organization’s functioning, culture, and dynamics and make the appropriate changes to enhance productivity while also achieving organizational harmony and balance.

He or she will not only strive to advance the Saylor Foundation’s mission, but will also actively contribute to the vision and thought leadership of the field of digital education and publicly communicate this vision.

Responsibilities of the DIRECTOR will include, but will not be limited to:

1)     Oversee the day-to-day operations of the Foundation, lead the creation of a shared vision for staff, the Trustee, and pertinent external groups, and educate others on the future direction of the Foundation and inspire and motivate them to be supporters and advocates;

2)     Represent the Foundation and speak compellingly and effectively about the Saylor model, growth and strategic plans at industry events; increase the visibility of the organization and build and maintain long term relationships with key partners and potential donors and advocates;

3)     Set a collaborative leadership example for the team while effectively conveying and representing the Trustee’s vision and directives to staff;

4)     Advocate among influential constituencies as a driver in the open education movement and the rise of digital education;

5)     Work with the human resources and legal team to create awareness of ethical, behavioral, and procedural standards expected of all employees and encourage a transparent culture in which these policies are understood and lived out at all organizational levels; prevent and manage breaches as they arise.

6)     Make effective and law- and regulation- abiding decisions in hiring, firing, placement, promotion, termination and compensation in conjunction with the Foundation’s General Counsel and human resources department;

7)     Guide cross-team and cross-organizational collaboration while working as a team player and effectively relating to a diversity of individuals with varying strengths, experience, and interests;

8)     Establish sound financial systems of accountability,  to prepare and take responsibility for the annual budget; manage and oversee all outgoing expenditures and allocated resources to each program and department;

9)     Develop and revise a monthly reporting mechanism for programmatic activity in order to report on and keep  abreast of, developments and patterns of success/failure.

10)  Understand and evangelize the product while developing relationships with target content partners, corporate sponsors AND traditional press and media outlets in order to increase awareness of the Foundation’s mission and status.

11)  Travel as required.

The breadth and scope of the project almost defies description — the new EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR must embrace a fast-paced and demanding work environment with constant strategic challenges and moving targets.  The organization’s programs and priorities are constantly evolving as is the nature of the industry within which it resides; the successful candidate must be equally as adaptable and not only survive change but embrace it.


1)     Extensive executive leadership experience (8 or more years) in education and/or digital education. Academic experience highly desirable. B.A./B.S. required; advanced degree in Education highly preferred.

2)     Demonstrated ability to lead, plan, and support a functionally organized environment, with staff working on a wide variety of activities. Ability to forecast, develop and implement organizational initiatives.

3)     Ability to think strategically and programmatically as well as successfully manage operations. Ability to set priorities, allocate resources, provide follow-through, assure a well-organized workforce and to provide evaluation of projects and efforts.

4)     Superb management skills, and demonstrated ability to lead, motivate and direct both professional and technical staff. Demonstrated success in managing fiscal, technology and human resources.  Excellent project management skills, including demonstrated ability to deliver superior results on deadline.

5)       Competent understanding of and comfort with embracing technology as an innovative force as demonstrated through professional experience and interests.

Details & Compensation

This is a full-time position.  The successful candidate will work at the Foundation’s headquarters in Washington DC. with monthly meetings in Vienna, VA required.  Pay is commensurate with experience on a not-for-profit scale and in-line with senior government leadership positions.  Health care benefits included for hired individual.

The Saylor Foundation
1000 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Suite 220
Washington DC   20007
p: (202) 333-4005