First of all, we need to recognize that completion rates for MOOCs really have a different meaning than those for regular university courses. This is mainly because of the differing level of investment the students make from the start. In other words “skin in the game” matters.
But MOOC completion rates aren’t really low in the context of Internet engagement. A click through rate of 5% for a google ad is considered a strong success. Convincing 5% to engage intellectually for 8 weeks is, I think, a big deal.
If we continue to keep the barrier to entry low, we’ll enable students to taste many many courses, and that may be a good thing for education.
On the other hand if we want to boost completion rates, and perhaps boost engagement in MOOCs we should consider forcing the students to invest. A small enrollment fee might make a big difference. I’d be very interested to see how this would affect engagement, learning and completion rates.