For Online Courses, Questions Over How Success is Measured

Reeve Hamilton:

The results of the University of Texas at Austin’s first full-semester foray into massive open online courses, or MOOCs, are in. But advocates for the classes, which are free or close to it, and open to anyone with an internet connection, recommend looking beyond the fall completion rates — ranging between 1 percent and 13 percent — to measure success.

In October 2012, the University of Texas System partnered with edX, a Massachusetts-based startup, to develop MOOCs, which were being widely touted as a disruptive force in higher education delivery.

The UT System invested $5 million in edX and committed to spending another $5 million on course development. It was in good company; Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had each ponied up $30 million to launch the service. Rice University, Texas’ elite private institution, also partnered with edX.

But the model has faced criticism for chronically low completion rates. And in those terms, UT-Austin’s early results, despite some courses being on the high end nationally, probably don’t look particularly impressive to most.

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