Need-to-Know News: edX Reveals Surprising Results from MOOC Study & New online model “Skillfeed”

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series I aim to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform the traditional model of education.

Of the numerous developments last week, edX the MOOC consortium revealed startling data in a research paper that details behaviour patterns of students in the Circuits and Electronics (6.002x) MOOC. Educators involved in MOOC instruction or development will find this research insightful. Shutterstock, a company that provides digital images for a fee, launched a platform for tech courses under a subscription model, which may be a direction online learning providers will follow. Finally, I’ve included two new, and quite unique ed tech tools that may be of interest to K-12 and/or higher education instructors.

1) edX’s Surprising Results Reported in First Research Paper on MOOCs


When edX first formed, its president Anant Agarwal emphasized that one of the core reasons driving the consortium’s initiative was research— the platform would be used to analyze and share results of new educational methods afforded by technology. Up until this point there has been little discussion about courses and/or results from the edX platform, Coursera and Udacity have dominated the headlines. Yet edX should be taking a different path given its not-for-profit premise. And this week we did [finally] get a glimpse into what appears to be extensive research going on behind the scenes. The Open Access journal, Research & Practice in Assessment released the paper Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom Research into edX’s First MOOC.

“Circuits and Electronics” (6.002x), which began in March 2012, was the first MOOC developed by edX. Over 155,000 students initially registered for 6.002x, which was composed of video lectures, interactive problems, online laboratories, and a discussion forum. As the course ended in June 2012, researchers began to analyze the rich sources of data it generated. This article describes both the first stage of this research, which examined the students’ use of resources by time spent on each, and a second stage that is producing an in-depth picture of who the 6.002x students were …. [and the] pedagogical components [that] contributed to their level of success in the course.” (Breslow, Pritchard, DeBoer, Stump, Ho & Seaton, 2013)


  • Over 90% of the activity on discussion forums resulted from students just viewing /reading what others students had written—these students did not post, or comment or contribute in any way to discussions threads. Perhaps we need to change our way of thinking about how students use discussion forums, since students that do contribute can enhance and deepen learning and comprehension for students that don’t/or are unable to contribute. Though these silent students may be considered passive, this may not be the case, nor should they be considered lurkers. These students may very well be learning and making sense of course material on their own terms.
  • The demographics of the student body are notable. Over 155,000 students enrolled from over 194 countries, yet the the country that provided the largest percentage of students was the U.S. with 17% of the 155,000, followed by India at 8% of the total, the UK at just over 5%, followed by Columbia (4%) and Spain (2%). Only 622 students from China enrolled (less than 1%). These numbers suggest that language and culture are potential barriers to MOOC participation. The paper provides further details and data.

2) New Online Platform for Tech Skills: Skillfeed

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 12.58.24 PM
Screen shot of home page.

Shutterstock Inc. announced the launch of an online learning marketplace [platform] featuring online instruction via videos for amateurs and professionals working with digital images and media. Skillfeed is similar to Khan Academy, but is for people looking to learn just-in-time skills needed for working with digital media. But, rather than a free platform, or pay-by-course model, it is a subscription based [and quite affordable] model.

[Skillfeed is] “Designed for brushing up on existing skills or developing extensive new ones, Skillfeed offers two types of courses: 1) Comprehensive Courses – Videos of 20 minutes or more, designed to develop in-depth professional skills, such as HTMLor Adobe InDesign, 2) Skill Snacks – Short videos you can watch on your lunch break to pick up new tips and techniques on a range of topics from Photoshop to video editing.”  Press Release, June 4, 2013


  • An appealing format that is easy to use for the busy professional or amateur that wants specific and high quality instruction, and is willing to pay for it.
  • This subscription format has great potential—I can see a market for such platforms as professionals look to simplify the search process for quality instructional videos in specific skill areas, and as a source for ongoing professional development.

3) Ed Tech Tools

  • Storybird: “Storybird lets anyone make visual stories in seconds. We curate artwork from illustrators and animators around the world and inspire writers of any age to turn those images into fresh stories.”
  • Text2MindMap: “The simple way to create mind maps online. Text 2 Mind Map has provided a free and simple mind mapping tool online since 2008.”

Have a great week.

11 thoughts on “Need-to-Know News: edX Reveals Surprising Results from MOOC Study & New online model “Skillfeed”

  1. Very interesting how high on the use scale the discussion areas rated. (and how low the tutorials scored). If we look at learning enhancements for any course we clearly have to study peer exchange online as very important. Even if 90% only observe I would imagine this would reflect a typical active exchange in a standard classroom? Not sure of that as is also seems suggestive that students perceive their peers as near-expert and would scan the discussions for tips and useful advice. I wonder how we recruit help from each other? Does it need to be an active exchange or do we mostly observe, validate and follow quietly?

    There must a number generated matching silent visitors to discussions who complete so we can start to know a level of participation that indicates who we may be losing? Active participation in a classroom environment to me indicates engagement and the quiet student may be just as engaged and here we could test this with the numbers generated. Plus, I’m tired of the term “lurker”:-)

    Great material thanks to you and the people at MIT for this.


    1. Hi Scott, Yes very good point – to study further the students that don’t engage in online discussions. There is much data obtained on each student working within an LMS. One can determine how long they were logged on, which pages they viewed (discussion boards), even which posts within a discussion the students clicks on. A sophisticated analysis could be done on non-participatory students to determine the learning outcomes of these students, and how they engaged within the LMS, which materials etc. I agree with you the term lurker has very negative connotations and obviously it now appears these students make up the majority of students. Determining how to engage these students further is another area to explore.

      Thanks for commenting Scott. Nice to hear from you again!


      1. Like most new things we can split off into followers and those who reject off-hand. I like your approach to things as they are and what they could be without so much of the baggage we all bring to assessing things–especially those we may not have seen before.

        How we learn together in groups seems vital to online learning becoming something of value and not just a second choice. The data from EDx is invaluable and also a lead into the creation of an analyzer profession of those adept at understanding the anthropology of the MOOC populace. Makes sense that MIT, the home of Sherry Turkle would be able to pull this off.

        I’ve read a piece recently referring to lurkers as “auditors” which translates to hearing or listening. Rather than simply accept them as unknowns or those lost to “realities of MOOC over subscription” we can listen ourselves to their activities and see what attracts.

        Part of the argument in favour of the live classroom over it’s online cousin is the ability for an instructor to read the audience and adapt on the fly. Can this not also operate online? We can bring in mentors, helpers, buddies and all kinds of assistance that might be organized but why not start with the evidence we have?

        Thanks again.


        1. Hi Scott,
          It seems to me that MOOCs are conducive to those that do not want to participate but sit on the sidelines – the format literally begs for it! Yet I agree that for those that DO want to get involved, feedback and support from helpers, mentors etc. would be helpful. On the other hand, closed smaller online classes do allow for group work, interaction, personalized feedback from instructor and more involvement with instructor to student. The online small class is more of the sister to the face-to-face class, and the MOOC the distant cousin as suggest. Love your analogy! Thanks for commenting!


  2. I am not sure if anyone from edx will ever look at this, but probably the reason that people from China are not accessing it is because they are not ABLE to access it.
    I had the same problem when I was in China a while ago and because the internet is very slow there, downloading a video from the US is an impracticality and it is also impossible to use Youtube there, the platform of videos that most of the MOOCS use. Therefore if you want to fix the issue with China, make sure it can get around their firewalls!!


  3. I think the introduction of MOOCs is going to be great for the community, however, I see them as a supplement to higher education – not a replacement. The open courses (although run by some Ivy League and world class institutions) are not reproduction of the universities original course and do not offer academic credit or recognisable qualification. I think they will be around in the long-term future, but see their primary function being as a means of self-development.


    1. Hi Jenna, like the idea of MOOCs being great for the community as you say. And you are right that will never replace the experience of face to face courses at a living, breathing university. I would like to point out that at one time higher education itself seemed “great for the community” also.

      I’m not sure how we will handle this but the constant fall-back onto the argument that online (read MOOC if you like) will never be as good as the in-class experience is speculation and could easily become proven by educators refusing their services to the community. If there is a division between the desires of the community for education and the desires of educators to claim special privilege over learning that is meaningful and “qualifies” how can I support educators. As an online student I’d like the privileges given to those who have access to “quality” education please. And for those content to take it as a given that I deserve less maybe their special place in community is undeserved?


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