Online interaction improves student performance. Gee, imagine that.

In a recent blog post, Annie Murphy-Paul notes the results of some recent MOOC research conducted by a group of Stanford researchers on student engagement in a Coursera MOOC. This “finding” caught my eye.

For example, in all three computer science courses they analyzed, they found a high correlation between ‘completing learners’ and participation on forum pages, suggesting a positive feedback loop: The more students interacted with others on the forum page, the better they learned. This led the researchers to suggest that designers should consider building other community-oriented features, including regularly scheduled videos and discussions, to promote social behavior.

Imagine that. Students interacting with each other might actually improve learning in an online course.

This is not new knowledge, and highlights one of the fundamental problems I have with the current crop of MOOC’s. Anyone who has examined any prior research into student success in an online course already knows this. Want successful students in an online course? Have them interact.  Yet somehow in the design of a revolutionary new online course, Coursera seems to have missed this well established fact.

George Veletsianos made the point last year that the current crop of commercial MOOC’s are ignoring a large and deep body of previous work in online and distance learning. George points to a comment Sebastian Thrun made in a NY Times article where Thrun states, “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.” In his post, George counters:

This perception of online education as “better than” or “as good as” other forms of education (I imagine that Sebastian Thrun is referring to face-to-face education here), is rampant. I believe it is rampant because our field has not done a good job disseminating what we know and what we don’t know about online education. At the same time, individuals do not tend to go back to the foundations of the field to investigate what others have discovered.

The result: A lack of understanding that there’s a whole field out there (here?) that has developed important insights on how we can design online education effectively.

While more research into an area is always a good thing, it does underscore the fact that the current crop of commercial MOOC courses seem to be blazing a trail that has been pretty well laid out. If only they would stop and take a look at the map.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


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