If you have been a regular reader of this blog and have a long memory, you may recall that back in December of 2012, in my article "Is the Udacity CS101 Course Watered Down?", I strongly emphasized my opinion that a vital part of getting the most out of the course is to participate actively in the forum. As strong as my opinion on this matter was, it was just my opinion. But now I've got data to back me up.
John Duhring has posted to the Google+ STEM Community today a link to an article "Effective Habits of Power Users: A Look At Recent MOOC Research". The article reports on a study of the small percentage of folks who completed the MIT "Circuits and Electronics" course that edX offered as a MOOC in March 2012. About 155,000 folks registered for the online course and only a few more than 7,000 completed the online course and earned a certificate of completion. There was a follow-up study to see what distinguished the folks who made it to the goal line from the rest. The report says the level of participation in the forum is the big differentiator.
Many years ago when I was a college student, I had the pleasure of sharing housing just off-campus with other students taking many of the same courses as I was taking. We had marvelous arguments with each other as to what the professor really was saying in the lectures we'd attended. They were friendly arguments with much hand waving at speeds approaching C to explain space-time dilation and other such hot topics. I'm quite certain that those discussions were an extremely important part of going to a residential college and greatly increased my learning.
I've been watching my wife's kids slow progress as commuter students to a local college and I think part of the problem is that they come home right after class and so don't have any of the discussions that cement into the brain the material of the course lectures. MOOC's bring a similar handicap of splendid isolation of the students from each other, but the forum provides a way for them to virtually get together and have those opinionated arguments with each other through the keyboard (hand-waving is not useful on the forums so some specific verbal skills are called for. At least you are safe from flying meter sticks approaching the speed of light).
So, again, if you take a MOOC, do take the time to participate in the forum associated with the course. Remember what Radio talk-show host Barry Farber used to say at the end of each broadcast: "Keep asking questions!"