SAN FRANCISCO, April 17 (Xinhua) -- A study indicates that a simple writing activity, lasting about eight minutes, increased completion rates for people from individualistic, but not collectivist, cultures to take online learning courses.
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.
While more than 58 million people have enrolled in MOOCs between 2011 and 2016, according to researchers who published their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, course completion rates are only about 10 percent, and just 25 percent for learners categorized as "highly committed."
René Kizilcec, a Stanford University doctoral candidate in communication and the study's lead author and Geoffrey Cohen, a professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Education and Department of Psychology and the study's co-author, cite a lack of external or social pressure to complete courses and little support or guidance as reasons for high attrition in MOOCs.
By analyzing individualist cultures, such as the United States, and collectivist cultures, such as China and India, their study involved 18,000 participants from more than 80 countries who enrolled in two Stanford online courses. "Educational researchers have studied students either by observing them in classrooms or through controlled laboratory experiments," said Kizilcec. "For the first time, we have a lab in an authentic learning environment with large and diverse groups of people participating."
Built on Kizilcec's prior research, which shows the benefits of psychological intervention strategies to support online learners based on their socioeconomic status, they devised a two-part writing activity based on a psychological strategy that involves weighing positive outcomes against obstacles in the way and identifying ways to overcome those obstacles. First, participants wrote about two positive outcomes and two obstacles regarding their online course. Second, they crafted "if-then" plans for overcoming the obstacles. For example, "If I'm too tired to study after work, then I'll make coffee."
When examining the entire data set, Kizilcec and Cohen found that the writing activity had no substantive effect. But when they analyzed the effect along cultural lines, they saw that learners in individualistic cultures were more likely to complete the course following the intervention. By contrast, learners in collectivist cultures did not benefit at all from the intervention.
In addition, they found a specific group of online learners that benefited the most: online learners from individualist countries dealing with easily surmountable obstacles, such as work or family obligations. Those learners were 78 percent more likely to complete the course following the intervention.
But when dealing with practical constraints such as no internet connection or a lack of time, the intervention did not have an effect. "If you're in a less-developed country and the internet is out for two or three days, there's not much you can do, even if you plan ahead," Kizilcec was quoted as saying in a news release from Stanford on Monday.
The findings support the need for tailored online education strategies based on cultural backgrounds and are expected to help millions of learners worldwide.