MIT Study: Online Courses Really Work (If You Finish Them)

Students learn as well online as they do in the classroom, according to a study from MIT researchers. It focused on MOOCs (massive open online courses), the online courses offered by for-profit companies like Udacity and colleges like MIT, Harvard and Caltech. They became a hot topic in 2011 when 160,000 people signed up for a course on artificial intelligence taught by a Stanford professor. That enthusiasm was dampened two years later when a University of Pennsylvania study found that only 4 percent of people who signed up for MOOCs actually completed the courses. This new study from MIT claims that people who do finish MOOC courses end up with the same learning gains as those who physically attend class. That goes for people of all education levels, from those with a high school diploma to those with a Ph.D. (They didn't end up with the same grades; they just made a similar amount of progress). “It’s an issue that has been very controversial,” researcher David Pritchard said in a statement. “A number of well-known educators have said there isn’t going to be much learning in MOOCs, or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated.”

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— Keith Wagstaff