Article Review: MOOCs and the Funnel of Participation

As part of my doctoral process, I have to review a lot of literature. A LOT. To motivate me to keep track of the resources as I read them, I am going to try to post summaries of the pertinent articles here. My hope is that I will get in the habit of writing and summarizing so that the literature review portion of my dissertation is easier to write. We’ll see if that works, and if I can keep up with the summaries!


Clow, Doug (2013). MOOCs and the funnel of participation. In: Third Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK 2013), 8-12 April 2013, Leuven, Belgium


One difference between researching participation through learning analytics in MOOCs and in formal education is the rationale and goals of the course designers. In cMOOCs, designers do not specify a final state for learners to measure success against, so it is difficult to determine who is or may be successful. It is also difficult to determine who has “completed” the course.

The researcher first presents a potential model for viewing levels of participation in a MOOC: the “funnel of participation,” then validates it with data from opened, a MOOC that began in 2010 and was offered three times between 2010 and 2012.

The four layers of the funnel are

  1. Awareness – simply knowing the MOOC exists
  2. Registration – those who sign up for the course
  3. Activity – those who engage in some type of activity
  4. Progress – those who make meaningful learning progress

For openED, there were 15,500 unique visitors (awareness level), 1,420 registrations (9% of visitors), and 198 contributors to the forums (14% of registrations). There was a strong correlation between number of visits to the site and number of forum posts (R = .86, p < .001). Clow does not identify individuals who are considered to have made meaningful progress or complete the course, so no comparison is made for the Activity vs. Progress levels.

Clow concludes that there are much higher dropout rates in MOOCs than formal courses, and that MOOCs alone cannot replace degrees. He argues “The significant efforts that institutions put in to supporting their learners to reach a commonality of learning outcome are necessary, and have a real effect” (p. 5).

Potential application:

The funnel of participation could be a framework for investigating participation in MOOCs. However, there must be some mechanism for identifying individuals who made meaningful progress, at least for their own learning goals.


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