MOOC Conversion Rates

Website operators that try to get the web surfer to do something (fill out a form, buy a product, click on an advertisement, etc) often discuss "conversion rate" -- how many web surfers actually make it to step 1 (or step 6, etc) of their website process? Another thing: unless the website operator is trying to trick the web surfer somehow, the website operator tries to align the process with the needs or intentions of the surfer.

In traditional higher education course offerings, institutions typically take tuition money, and provide refunds if a student drops a course, with the refund shrinking as the term progresses. It is assumed that most paying students will pass the course and receive college credit, so that's the "conversion". Institutions attend to the "drop/fail/withdraw" rate, concerned about those students that do not make the "conversion".

Considering the current model of higher education MOOCs, where most (right now) are not for credit, defining a "conversion" for a MOOC can be unclear. Trying to create a marketing mailing list? Trying to award alternative forms of "credit" like certificates? Having a student reach the end of the course, and awarding a grade? MOOCs have the trappings, the adornment of academia, like lectures, quizzes, and the awarding of grades. But until they award college credit, they are not courses. The awarding of credit and degrees is the "widget" produced by the higher education factory (at least as far as students are concerned).