MOOCs are getting personal, but also more engaging!

All the lessons of AlgebraX (one of our math MOOCs on edX) have now been posted. And the feedback from students has been incredible! We still have two more weeks of lessons to post for GeometryX, on surface area and transformations, and then that MOOC will be complete as well.

As edX CEO Anant Agarwal has said, our courses represent the first two adaptive MOOCs on the edX platform, where students can "choose their own adventure" through each lesson, enjoying an experience that is tailored to their individual knowledge and abilities. And we're using all the data we're collecting to improve these lessons and add more paths for different learners to follow.

Despite our MOOCs being only a few months old, we can already measure how they're being received. One important metric is engagement, or how long students' attention is focused. One-on-one learning certainly is more engaging than a lecture, but does this trend translate over to MOOCs? How do interactive, personalized lessons compare to passive video content when it comes to online learning?

Researchers have studied how long students will watch videos on edX before "dropping out," which in this case means closing the video.

Measuring engagement for passive videos on edX

This data was collected from four of edX's most popular MOOCs. One way to interpret this graph is to look at where the trend line crosses 50% (at about 4 minutes). So after about 4 minutes of a video, half the students have dropped out. With passive video content, MOOC students have an attention span of 4 minutes.

So how do interactive, personalized lessons compare? Well, here's the corresponding graph containing all the lessons from our AlgebraX and GeometryX MOOCs:

Measuring engagement for School Yourself's AlgebraX and GeometryX MOOCs on edX

You're reading that correctly -- the trend line doesn't cross 50% until about 22 minutes. So with our interactive personalized lessons, attention span is 22 minutes, a 450% increase over passive video.

Now this isn't a perfect comparison. The user interface for our lessons is a little different from the traditional YouTube scrub bar that appears in most edX videos. Also, because of the adaptive nature of our lessons, different students will spend different amounts of time on any given lesson. So to generate the above graph, we used the average lesson duration among students who completed the lesson. But despite these difficulties in comparing interactive versus passive video content, the difference is striking.

It's our hope that online learning (and MOOCs in particular) continue to become more personalized and interactive over the coming years. It seems that with this evolution, increased engagement will be an added bonus!


  1. Does the Geometry course cover the required subjects for the NYS Regents exam?

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