Linear Learning – What Can We Learn About Course Completion Rates?

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Exploring the relationship between Linear Learning and Course completion rates.

One of the largest surveys of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to date, ‘…a joint research team from MIT and Harvard announced the release of a comprehensive report on learner engagement and behaviour in 290 massive open online courses (MOOCs) across a period of 4 years, covering 245 thousand certifications, 4.5 million participants and 28 million participant-hours…’ [1] led to a startling revelation: the percentage of learners who went on to complete a course was a minuscule 5.5%.[2]

At HandyTrain, we’ve created, deployed and managed training lifecycles for tens of thousands of employees. We can boast of course completion rates upwards of 90%. Yes, 90%. There are ebbs and flows, and of course, learnings.

Even in case of our clients who insist on the non-linear learning path, the completion gap is startling compared to those to opt for the recommended linear learning path. The pitfalls of this approach are not only evident, they’re empirically measured and published by two of the most revered Private Universities in the world.

A couple of reasons behind poor course completion rates:

  1. The Paradox of Choice
    Barry Schwartz, an American Psychologist and Author of The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less, argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers.
    I couldn’t resist drawing a parallel here. When you open up a bouquet of learning programs, each a self-contained unit, the pattern of consumption is akin to cherry-picking. Learners complete a few modules of a program and then quickly jump to another one. This cycle continues and the low-hanging fruit wins! Needless to say, drop-off rates are very high and low completion rates ensue.
  2. Discipline and Self-Motivation (rather, the lack of)
    It’s safe to assume that nearly each and every one of the 4.5 million users who enrolled in the MOOCs were, to some extent, self-driven and motivated, which is why they enrolled in the courses to begin with. If only 5.5% of these self-motivated individuals went on to complete the course, what would this mean for courses that are deployed to the entire roster of employees within an organization? Each with varying levels of cognitive abilities, motivation levels and discipline.

If we don’t guide our learners through a linear flow by prompting, motivating and hand-holding them through their journey, we’re leaving it up to their individual sense of discipline and self-motivation. Some may argue that there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach and has been followed for decades. But in doing so, are we paying heed to the fact that just 5.5% of the population surveyed are indeed self-motivated and disciplined to the extent that they end up crossing the finishing line?

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