Sramana Mitra: This discussion is interesting in terms of paradigms of how online learning is going to progress. This is the paradigm that is going to be desirable across the board. It also helps people engage better when you have a combination of self service which offers flexibility and then you have the interactive session which simulates the experience of working with instructors in real time. That captures all the different best practices that human beings need to learn. That’s my assessment. Is that in synch with what you’re thinking?
Kurt Kirstein: I agree. I once heard a study cited about the two reasons for people to abandon or quit online programs. One was the lack of time. They felt like they just didn’t have the time to be able to do that. The second reason that was cited was a feeling of isolation. They didn’t feel the sense of camaraderie with their fellow students. If you reflect back on some of your own educational experiences, it’s some of that camaraderie that can really lead to some real deep learning. If we can supplement the lack of camaraderie and bring that back through these interactions, I think that can really help.
Sramana Mitra: The community aspect is quite important.
Kurt Kirstein: There’s one other dynamic here that’s at play. We have shifted the whole paradigm of online learning in a sense. We’re running into some resistance on this. That’s the fact that we now require students to be in a location at a specific time. We are strongly encouraging students to participate live because watching a recording is different than being involved in a discussion that’s happening live. We have to walk that fine line and balance that. At City University, we have come up with a mode that we’ve described as online which requires seminar. There will be times when you will be required to participate live in an online seminar.
Sramana Mitra: You started talking about low completion rates and why people abandon online learning. Can you talk a bit more about what other findings you have on that topic. In online learning, in general, it requires a level of self-motivation. You have to set up an appointment with yourself to go sit down and spend an hour or two to do a couple of modules and learn on your own without a personal trainer so to speak. What is your impression on what are the different dynamics on abandonment?
Kurt Kirstein: I think that the level of abandonment is highly correlated to the level of effort that a student has to make to get into a program. The reason why the abandonment in MOOCs is so high is because it’s too easy to get into them. You get a lot of people who get into a MOOC.
Sramana Mitra: They’re not really making a commitment. They’re getting their feet wet. They’re just coming in looking around and then disappearing.
Kurt Kirstein: They don’t have to invest any money. They’re completely anonymous. They don’t have a lot of skin in the game. That’s why I think you have abandonment that’s really high. Our abandonment rates are the highest in the first three quarters. Those are students who got in the program and got through the first few courses and then they’ll say, “I’m going to do this later or this is not for me.” Once we get them to the third quarter, we’ve got the ones who are really the invested. We got almost a 90% completion rate from the third quarter on to the end of the program.
My undergraduate was purely in class. My master’s was purely in class. My doctoral degree was purely online and then I did a certificate program afterwards that was a combination of online and in-class. I would have to say that it was that certificate program that I think was most powerful because it allowed that camaraderie and flexibility to be built in together. It’s a huge dynamic for students deciding whether or not they persist or abandon online education.
If they can’t feel that there’s that sense of community, especially in the discussion boards, then I think you’ve got that whole dynamic. That impacts MOOCs as well. With 10,000 people in a class, I don’t think you can build some sort of a community there. I think it’s just too much and too little of control. The camaraderie piece is huge. Whether or not they perceive the value for the effort is huge.