Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, June 15, 2013

MOOC Study Shows Having A Real-Life Teacher Available Offline Is Important

Forget the hype over online courses - the so-called MOOC's - and how they're going to remake education.
The online version of The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on a study of student performance in a MOOC course offered at M.I.T. The major finding was that online learners who took the first session of “Circuits & Electronics,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s hallmark MOOC, those who worked on course material offline with a classmate or “someone who teaches or has expertise” in the subject did better than those who did not.

The research team, led by Lori Breslow, director of MIT’s Teaching and Learning Laboratory, tried to drill down to what types of demographic and behavioral factors contribute to student success in a massive online environment.

“On average, with all other predictors being equal, a student who worked offline with someone else in the class or someone who had expertise in the subject would have a predicted score almost three points higher than someone working by him or herself,” write the authors.

 The correlation, described by the authors as the “strongest” in the data set, was limited to a single instance of a particular MOOC, and is not exactly damning to the format. But it nonetheless may give ammunition to critics who say human tutelage remains essential to a good education. 

I am just shocked that students with access to an offline teacher or someone with expertise in the subject did better than students who just worked by himself/herself online.


  1. The headline to this piece is deceptive. The study does NOT say that those with "live teachers" did better; it only showed that in this one course, those who worked with SOMEONE ELSE did better. Not only is this not "exactly damning to the format" - as the author admits: it has no implications whatsoever for MOOCs, except that students will do better (in such courses) if they work together. Everyone already knows this. And keep in mind that all of the major platforms are investing heavily in live formats to enable this.


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