Emerging Student Patterns in MOOCs: A Graphical View

Phil Hill, Mar 11, 2013
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Because the whole emphasis on the new crop of MOOCs is their massiveness, it becomes very important how you count participants. Hence Phil Hills division of MOOC participants into four categories was broadly welcomed last week. The categories are (using Phil Hill's terminology and descriptions):

  • Lurkers – where people enroll but just observe or sample a few items at the most.
  • Drop-Ins – Partially or fully active participants for a select topic but do not attempt to complete the course.
  • Passive Participants – These are students who view a course as content to consume and expect to be taught.
  • Active Participants – These are the students who fully intend to participate in the MOOC.

Like most categorization exercises (and therefore 90 percent of research in education) the division reveals more about the perspective of the researcher than it does about the demographics (notice, for example, how I say 'participants' and not 'students' - perspective shift). Not that this is bad - it's just useful to be clear about what we're studying.

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