Skip to content Skip to navigation

An 8-minute exercise helps some online learners overcome obstacles, according to Stanford scholars

René Kizilcec, doctoral candidate in communication, is lead author of a study showing that a simple writing activity increased online course completion rates for those from individualistic, but not collectivist, cultures.

Image credit: L.A. Cicero
Apr 18 2017

Posted In:

Faculty, In the News

Stanford scholars examined the effectiveness of a psychological strategy on online learners. They found noticeable differences along cultural lines that could help millions of online learners overcome obstacles.

“Educational researchers have studied students either by observing them in classrooms or through controlled laboratory experiments,” said René Kizilcec, a Stanford doctoral candidate in communication and the study’s lead author. “For the first time, we have a lab in an authentic learning environment with large and diverse groups of people participating. Now we can learn much faster about how to support different learners through rapid experimentation and big data.”

The allure and challenges of learning online

Online learning has surged in recent years with the proliferation of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which provide learners of all educational, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to glean knowledge from experts and scholars around the globe. More than 58 million people have enrolled in MOOCs between 2011 and 2016, according to the researchers.

But despite their popularity, course completion rates for MOOCs are only about 10 percent, and just 25 percent for learners categorized as “highly committed,” according to the study.

Reasons for high attrition in MOOCs vary. Kizilcec and the study’s co-author, Geoffrey Cohen, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Department of Psychology, cite a lack of external or social pressure to complete courses and little support or guidance in online learning environments among them.