Beyond Time-on-Task: The Relationship between Spaced Study and Certification in MOOCs

19 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2015  

Yohsuke R. Miyamoto

Harvard University

Cody Austun Coleman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Joseph Jay Williams

Harvard University

Jacob Whitehill

Harvard University

Sergiy O Nesterko

Harvard University - HarvardX

Justin Reich

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Office of Digital Learning

Date Written: January 9, 2015

Abstract

A long history of laboratory and field experiments has demonstrated that dividing study time into many sessions is often superior to massing study time into few sessions, a phenomenon widely known as the “spacing effect.” Massive open online courses (MOOCs) collect abundant data about student activity over time, but little of its early research has used learning theory to interrogate these data. Taking inspiration from this psychology literature, here we use data collected from MOOCs to identify observational evidence for the benefits of spaced practice in educational settings. We investigated tracking logs from 20 HarvardX courses to examine whether there was any relationship between how students allocated their participation and what performance they achieved. While controlling for the effect of total time on-site, we show that the number of sessions students initiate is an important predictor of certification rate, across students in all courses. Furthermore, we demonstrate that when students spend similar amounts of time in multiple courses, they perform better in courses where that time is distributed among more sessions, suggesting the benefit of spaced practice independently of student characteristics. We conclude by proposing interventions to guide students’ study schedules and for leveraging such an effect.

Keywords: MOOC, spacing effect, spaced practice, distributed practice, time on-site, sessions, online education

Suggested Citation

Miyamoto, Yohsuke R. and Coleman, Cody Austun and Williams, Joseph Jay and Whitehill, Jacob and Nesterko, Sergiy O and Reich, Justin, Beyond Time-on-Task: The Relationship between Spaced Study and Certification in MOOCs (January 9, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2547799 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2547799

Yohsuke R. Miyamoto (Contact Author)

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Cody Austun Coleman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Electrical Engineering and Computer Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

Joseph Jay Williams

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jacob Whitehill

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Sergiy O Nesterko

Harvard University - HarvardX ( email )

125 Mt Auburn St.
Cambridge, MA 02476
United States

HOME PAGE: http://nesterko.com

Justin Reich

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Office of Digital Learning ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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