HBS Under Attack…By A Silly VC?

Stanford Professor Chuck Eesley

Stanford Professor Chuck Eesley

A Stanford MOOC Where The Majority of Students Don’t Drop Out



That’s the percentage of students who dropped out of MOOCs from Wharton and MIT before earning a completion certificate according to a recent study. With leading business schools putting the best talent behind MOOCs, a high attrition rate reflects poorly on the brand, let alone makes a mockery of the educational mission.

Now, here’s a new number to digest:


That’s the percentage of students who completed Stanford Professor Chuck Eesley’s online course called Technology Entrepreneurship through Novoed. And it’s particularly impressive when you recognize how much easier it is to drop a free class than a paid one.

So what’s the secret? Eesley, who has taught over 150,000 online students in his career, credits “the subject matter – combined with a collaborative experience” – for keeping students “engaged and more likely to complete the program.”

For Chuck Eesley, too many online courses are like taking “a vow of solitude.” Sure, students can work at their own pace. But they also miss out on robust discussions, peer tutoring, and the esprit des corps that marks most brick-and-mortar learning settings. However, Eesley points to programs like NovoEd – a learning platform developed by Stanford – as a place where students can “form teams, find mentors and get feedback on team projects while establishing global relationships that will last years.”

What’s more, the online environment reflects the new realities of work according to Chuck Eesley. “As the contemporary workplace shifts toward remote work, distributed teams, and co-workers who are not co-located, this ability to interact with peers across cultures, time zones, and geographies is becoming crucial in today’s workforce… The upshot: Learning to thrive in an online ed class isn’t just a way to survive the course. It’s a valuable business skill all its own.”

Despite teaching thousands of students at a time, Eesley doesn’t feel that a MOOC requires any more time than a face-to-face class. In fact, it often frees up the instructor in his view. “What is hard to explain to them until they’ve experienced it is how the teams, mentors, and peer learning make such a “massive” class feel smaller and like a more intimate learning environment. This requires relatively little from the instructor because the students help one another tackle each assignment. Now, in the fifth time the course has run, it takes only a couple of hours of my weekly time to prepare.”

Although MOOCs will probably continue to have low completion rates, Eesley believes there are more important factors with MOOCs: “…this approach to virtual ed has something else going for it: It helps students develop the same soft skills gained in a conventional classroom, interpersonal and electronic-communication tact, cross-cultural relations, leadership, teamwork, and the ability to give and receive peer feedback. You won’t find those skills as parts of conventional online education programs.”

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek

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