Understanding the Impact of Groups on Performance and Retention in Massive Open Online Courses

COIL is proud to have supported the Understanding the Impact of Groups on Performance and Retention in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) project through our Research Initiation Grant Program.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are potentially powerful online innovations attracting a massive, global population. However, MOOCs are also notorious for their massive attrition rates – up to 90% (Breslow et al, 2013). The colossal number of forum posts and assignments submitted preclude faculty from providing individual feedback or meeting the needs of the huge and diverse student population. As a result, students feel lost and perceive the forums and courses in general as chaotic. We are attempting to solve this problem by forming online groups where interaction among students plays a central role in the learning process (Lipponen, 2002; Palloff, 1999). We have formed forty two groups in the PSU Creativity, Innovation, and Change (CIC) MOOC and will study effects of groups on the performance and retention of enrolled students. Groups were formed based on students’ preferred language to communicate with others, their intention to complete course assignments (all, most, some, or none), their preferred communication modes (asynchronous or synchronous, text or video/audio), and the best times to work with others. An “ad hoc” group was also formed, in which over 200 learners were invited to visit one of three “round the clock” videoconferencing rooms whenever they wanted to talk with others about the course.

Project’s goals are to:

  1. Investigate the types of groups MOOC students prefer
  2. Determine whether certain group types, sizes, and/or communication modes are more effective in increasing MOOC performance and decreasing attrition
  3. Explore what contributes to the group success
  4. Disseminate findings and apply for external funding.


College of Education, University Park, Penn State

  • Adelina Hristova – Doctoral Student, Adult Education/Comparative & International Education (Principal Investigator)
  • Kyle Peck – Professor of Education, Learning, Design, and Technology
  • Qing Zhang – Doctoral Student, Learning, Design, and Technology

Information Technology Services, University Park, Penn State

  •  Vicki Hoffman – Senior Support & Training Analyst

Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, Penn State

  • Kathryn Jablokow – Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design

College of Engineering, School of Engineering Education, Purdue University

  • Daniel Ferguson, research associate, CATME team member
  • Matt Ohland, Professor, CATME team member

College of Education, South China Normal University

  •  Xiaoyong Hu – Professor of Education Technology


  • Paper by Zhang and Park – ISTE, June 28 – July 1, 2015. Philadelphia, PA – was accepted
  • “Understanding the Communication and Tool Preferences of MOOC Learners Working in Groups” to ETR&D http://link.springer.com/journal/11423 was accepted and currently is under revision


  • Hoffman – Session speaker for the main conference at The Annual Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando, FL, March 23-27, 2015
  • Hristova and Bayeck – papers at CIES conference in Washington DC, March 8-14, 2015
  • Zhang and Peck – AECT-LKAOE 2015, June17-19, 2015, Shanghai,China

Grants Pursued:

  • Google Faculty Application submitted:  Toward MOOC 9.0: Meaningful Peer Support in Massive Open Online Courses


Adelina Hristova Headshot

Adelina Hristova
(814) 223-2414


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