Jack M. Wilson, Distinguished Professor of Higher Education, Emerging Technologies, and Innovation and President Emeritus of the University of Massachusetts

MIT has recently released a report on the experience they have had with MOOCs in the edX program in 2012 and 2013.

Report:  "MIT and Harvard release working papers on open online courses"
"Research findings challenge common misconceptions, offer surprising insights about how students engage with MOOCs"
            - http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2014/mit-and-harvard-release-working-papers-on-open-online-courses-0121.html
             Led by Isaac Chuang, professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, and Andrew Ho, associate professor in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education

It includes data from 17 Courses at Harvard and MIT in 2012-2013 "with 841,687 registrations from 597,692 unique users.  Each course yielded roughly 20 GB of data.

 I plotted the data that they provided to show the flow through the course:

edX-MIT and Harvard Course Experience 2012-2013
Registrations                 841,687 100%            469,702 Engaged but viewed less than half
Engaged some                 548,835 65%            292,852 Never Engaged
Viewed more than half                   79,133 9%              35,937 Viewed more than half but did not complete
Certificate of completion                   43,196 5%

Report assertions:
Takeaway 1: Course completion rates, often seen as a bellwether for MOOCs, can be misleading and may at times be counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.

Takeaway 2: Most MOOC attrition happened after students first registered for a course. On average, 50 percent of people left within a week or two of enrolling. After that window, attrition rates decreased.

Takeaway 3: Given the “massive” scale of some MOOCs, small percentages are often still large numbers of students — and signify a potentially large impact.
The report paints a "glass half full" picture of MOOCs and I cannot argue with these interpretations, however I wish they could have been more forthcoming with some of the limitations that have been clearly revealed.  I have written at length on these in other articles.  The MYTHS of MOOCs is a good summary of some concerns, but my website contains more detailed presentations.  One of the major problems with MOOCs and their proponents is that MOOCs have been seriously over-hyped in a way that is incredibly misleading.  The report demonstrates clearly that MOOCs can be a valuable way of delivering information to those who seriously desire that information and have the self discipline to acquire it.  The report makes no effort to determine what competencies have been acquired by those who get "Certificates of Completion."  What does completion actually mean?  This will require very carefully done pre- and post-testing of students to determine the learning in the course.  The recent National Academy of Science report would give some guidance as to how that might be done. (Adapting to a Changing World--Challenges and Opportunities in Undergraduate Physics Education ).   Although this details the role of education research in restructuring physics education, the approach would be of great benefit to understanding more about learning in MOOCs.  Perhaps additional data will be forthcoming from that already collected?

This report clearly shows that MOOCs are not yet ready to take a significant role in undergraduate education and cannot be used to replace traditional courses in a misguided effort to save money.  The hype around MOOCs has not only damaged the prospects for more established (and more carefully evaluated) approaches to online education, it has put the future of MOOC development under a cloud.

We have seen a dramatic turn about in the perceptions of MOOCs in a very short time.  Sebastian Thrun, the Founder of Udacity said "In 50 years there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot of being one of them."  That was only a year ago.  Now he is saying: "We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” -Sebastian Thrun, Fast Company Magazine –Jan 2014.

In my opinion, it is time to eradicate the hype and unrealistic expectations (and fears) about MOOCs and begin to carefully* evaluate them to find out exactly how they might improve the quality and access to education.  Eventually we might even find a way to use them to reduce cost, but right now MOOCs are a wonderful way for interested persons to explore interesting topics -a more academic version of Google!

* (love to carefully split an infinitive)