The Intentionality Rule

I recently read: Levy, Y. (2007). Comparing dropouts and persistence in e-learning courses. Computers & Education, 48(2), 185-204

What caught my eye was the author's attempt to actually define the idea of "dropping" a course for retention purposes. The proposed definition is: “Thus, in the context of e-learning courses, this study will define dropout students (or non-completers) as students that voluntarily withdraw from e-learning courses while acquiring financial penalties."

Obviously, this sort of definition is geared toward the "traditional" model where courses cost something (so not free MOOC-style "courses"). Furthermore, a person should probably take into account that the financial penalty for dropping late varies quite a bit from institution to institution, depending on things like local policies or tuition rates. The likelihood that a student will stay until the end of a course and be successful is also almost certainly related to the intention of the student -- students who are enrolled for entertainment (MOOCs), or for insurance purposes, or have serious competing intentionalities (the need to work, raise a family, etc) will be more likely to drop.

So I'd like to propose the "Intentionality Rule": The greater the penalties for dropping (financial, or perhaps "sunk costs"), the more an institution is able to impose the intentionality of the course (you are here to finish the course, get a grade, receive a degree, etc). Of course, these greater costs or penalties may make the course less accessible. Thus: imposing costs is a way for an institution to maintain control over student intentionality. The lower the penalties, the more students are able to bring their own reasons for participating, on their own terms, perhaps not finishing the course or "doing all the work".

This is what makes offering free MOOC-style courses interesting -- schools may think that they are offering the same or similar "course" as they do on campus, but because the course is free, students are free to participate on their own terms. I'd argue that the same thing happens in community colleges or other environments where the tuition/financial penalty structure is so reasonable, that it doesn't really sort out the students who are not committed to the intentionality of the institution.