A common criticism of the current wave of more or less open courses is that there is a high drop-out rate with sometimes only 10-20% of students completing the course. In the traditional education system this is seen as a sign of abject failure but should we apply the same principles in judging the impact of open education? Does it really matter who completes the course or not since the motivation for studying via MOOCs and suchlike is not to gain academic credits but simply to learn. If only part of the MOOC is relevant to your current interests you will study that part and then move on. This is not a case of dropping out but more like dipping into a good book to read the parts that interest you.
This is well argued by Donald Clark in a post called MOOCs: ‘dropout’ a category mistake, look at ‘uptake’? It all depends how we view the MOOC movement. If we see MOOCs as part of the traditional credit-based system for students who want degrees then they do not work very well. However as an arena for lifelong learning which you can access whenever you need to without any formal demands then the concept of dropping out becomes irrelevant.
"MOOCs must not be seen as failure factories. They must rise above the education models that filter and weed out learners through failure. Good MOOCs will allow you to truly go at your own pace, to stop and start, go off on an exploratory path and return again. This is what true adult learning is and should be. I always drop out of learning experiences as I never go on formal courses. I decide when I’ve had enough. They should not copy but complement or construct new models of learning."
Of course the universities who offer MOOCs would like to see high completion rates in order to justify their investments. But let's leave the basic layer of open resources and courses free and accessible for all to use and benefit from but focus on value-added services like examination, tutoring, validation, recruitment and advertising as monetisation options. MOOCs are not really threatening the traditional university system - they are widening the scope and reach of higher education and reaching new audiences. As such they should not be judged by the same criteria as traditional courses.