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What happens when a university education is free: Reflections on MOOC

I just passed my first MOOC (with distinction, thanks) and now it’s time to reflect a bit on the experience.

I took the course through Coursera, which recently surpassed 2 million in enrolled students. Think on that. Their largest course to date had 173,000 enrolled (and growing even still). But how do the numbers break down when the courses actually happen? This is only data I have from the HCI course, but I find the breakdown very interesting.

  • 29,568 students watched video(s)
  • 20,443 submitted quiz(zes)
  • 3,203 completed an assignment
  • 765 completed all five assignments
  • 130 countries represented


A short visualization of that completion breakdown, as parts of the whole (brighter/left-most parts being the smaller parts):

I think these are some interesting numbers to reflect on — what happens when you offer college education for free to anyone with an internet connection? The final completion for the studio track (the one 764 people plus myself completed) is only 2.5% of the number of students who did what I consider ‘minimal effort’ — they watched one video (or at least clicked a video link, which would log that activity). Seven hundred and sixty five is a lot of people … but surprisingly few to me. What do you think?

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