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The Study Hall

Measurements of MOOC Success

MOOC completion rates simply don’t cut it as a way to measure MOOC success. Let me tell you my Canvas Network MOOC “success” story.


In January 2013, I began a one-year sabbatical from Brigham Young University – Hawaii (BYU-H) for the sole purpose of creating a free, introductory accounting course for the world. But I had never done this before (and wasn’t quite sure how), so

 I had to rely on the Canvas Network team to be my MOOC companions, assistants, and mentors.

Overcoming the unknown
Very early in the process, I realized I may have bitten off more than I could chew, but I pressed on, learned faster, became more efficient, and worked longer. By the end of 2013, I had created a 16 module MOOC with 69 different topics and quizzes, three exams, and more than 600 YouTube videos. The course launched in January 2014.

So hundreds of students enrolled and I really had no idea what to expect when the class began. Would I be inundated with questions? Would the course implode due to some technological challenge? Would I get gripe-mail from hundreds of disgruntled students?

All I could do was have confidence in my material and follow the advice of the Canvas Network team.

A pleasant surprise

Despite my fears, the course ran smoothly with no technological glitches. My only disappointment was being unable to provide video materials for students in countries where YouTube is blocked. Other than that, I was able to answer all of my students’ questions in a timely way throughout the duration of the course.

My five indicators of “success”

About 1,600 students enrolled and 70 (or 4.4%) successfully completed my course. So you’re probably wondering how I could possibly consider this a success. As I stated above, there’s more to MOOC success than student completion rates. These are my five indicators of success.

  1. Seventy students in my course walked away with foundational knowledge in the fundamentals of financial accounting for FREE. So instead of being dismayed by the completion percentage, I’m focusing on the 70 individual people around the world whose lives I was able to impact in a positive way from the comfort of my office in Hawaii. One of these people was Anggoro, a successful student from Indonesia. He said, “Do you know that my children argued who should hold the certificate? They all wanted to hold it!" This tells me Anggoro’s children knew he was working hard to educate himself. I believe that will inspire his kids to educate themselves in the future.

  1. The cost of education is skyrocketing. In a very small way, my course made a tiny dent in the cost of a university education. So far, 78 BYU-H students have used my MOOC course materials instead of purchasing a $200+ textbook. In total, my course will have saved students $15,600 in textbook costs. As I continue to use these materials in future courses the savings will only continue to grow.

  1. My wife (a chemistry major in college) enrolled in and successfully completed my course and now understands ME better. It never hurts to have your spouse gain an appreciation for what you do all day. She also just might understand a little better why I do certain things the way I do.

  1. My attempts to clearly explain the underlying theory of core accounting principles forced me to learn them to a greater extent than ever before. So even though I had been studying accounting, doing accounting, auditing accounting, or teaching accounting since 1986, there were still deeper theoretical accounting concepts that I was able to discover by creating my MOOC. I know that I am a better teacher today than I was in January 2013.

  2. I received 47 pages of thank yous and compliments from students all over the world, and although this didn’t result in any significant monetary benefits, it resulted in a significant amount of personal satisfaction. Here are just a few quotes from these many day-brightening notes from around the world. 

“I love this course and I love you for your kindness, your willingness to explain and support us learners when we need help.”

“Today, an incoming freshman asked me to describe accounting. Thanks to your course, I felt well qualified to explain the topic and help him decide between Accounting, Marketing, and Finance.”

“I first engaged in the MOOC hype back in 2000 with Bloomberg University. Your course has been the toughest one, but the most complete among all the studies I pursued for a certificate.”

“I loved your course and found that it was well worth the time and effort I spent completing it!”

I’m truly grateful to Canvas Network for enabling me to deliver this educational opportunity to the world. I’m particularly grateful to Canvas Network team members Hilary Melander and Carrie Saarinen, who helped mentor me through the process of creating and publishing my MOOC. Thanks are also deserved by BYU-H for allowing me to take a full-year sabbatical to develop this course. Although the completion rate for my course was definitely not “massive,” the personal impact for me was massive and that’s one way I measure success.

Kevin Kimball
Associate Professor of Accounting
BYU Hawaii