Brief interventions help online learners persist with coursework, research finds

Millions of people have taken free massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which have been touted as democratizing access to educational opportunities around the world. But whether learners are likely to succeed in a MOOC largely depends on where they live, according to new Stanford-led research. A study, set to be published in the Jan. 20 issue of Science, found that people in less-developed countries are completing MOOCs at a lower rate than those in the more developed parts of the world. But, the researchers found, brief psychological interventions that affirm class takers' sense that they belong can help close the global achievement gap. "MOOCs have expanded access to education but this doesn't guarantee equal opportunities for people around the world," said René Kizilcec, the lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Communication. "Providing access to the Internet and courseware is not enough. People need to feel welcome in online-learning environments to reach their potential." Discovering the global gap Online education gained momentum in 2011, when institutions and entrepreneurs began developing different MOOC platforms such as Coursera and edX. The higher-education landscape shifted and online course delivery became a viable option to extend learning opportunities to a global audience. But learning data made available by the courses themselves revealed that while many people enrolled in free, online courses, far fewer completed them. Kizilcec began researching MOOCs at the onset. Together with an interdisciplinary group of graduate students, he co-founded Stanford's Lytics Lab in the fall of 2012. Over the past five years, with support from the Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning and the Graduate School of Education, the lab has focused on studying the experiences of people who take MOOCs to advance the science of learning and instruction. Kizilcec said his previous research showed that achievement rates in online courses varied based on gender and education level of the learners. But the biggest gap was geographical. The geographic gap was quantified and visualized in the new study with data on completion rates of about 1.8 million people who have enrolled in Stanford's MOOCs between 2012 and 2015 and with the United Nations' Human Development Index, which measures the countries' level of human development based on factors such as...

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