Volume index - Journal index - Article index - Map ---- Back

Comunicar Journal 70: New challenges for teachers in the context of digital learning (Vol. 30 - 2022)

Engagement and desertion in MOOCs: Systematic review


Odiel Estrada-Molina

Dieter-Reynaldo Fuentes-Cancell


Massive and open online courses (MOOCs) satisfy learning needs from the particularities of their typologies (xMOOC, tMOOC, cMOOC, iMOOC, among others) even though their high dropout rate is still latent. Recent studies reaffirm engagement as an alternative to reduce dropout rates. The literature analyzed has not yet been able to systematize responses as to how to guarantee engagement in MOOCs and thus reduce their attrition rate. And, consistent with that question, are there still challenges for teachers in this area of educational technology? These answers motivated us to carry out this systematic review to determine how engagement has been studied to help reduce the attrition rate in MOOCs. Articles from journals indexed in Scopus or WoS were reviewed applying the PRISMA protocol. At the end of the protocol, it was defined to analyze 40 studies. The results reflect that the main variables are: the design of e-activities, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and communication between students. This paper confirms that the main challenges to guarantee engagement in MOOCs are individualized tutoring, interactivity, and feedback. Due to the scarcity of studies that analyze the variables in an integrated way, it is proposed as future work to determine what relationships exist between these variables that interfere with engagement and dropout in MOOCs.


Engagement, MOOC, sMOOC, tMOOC, xMOOC, learning

PDF file in Spanish

PDF file in English


Acosta, E., Escribano, J.J., & Valderrama, F.G. (2014). Motivación en la educación masiva online Desarrollo y experimentación de un sistema de acreditaciones para los MOOC. Digital Education Review, 25(1), 18-35. https://doi.org/10.13140/2.1.3737.6641

Adam, T. (2020). Open educational practices of MOOC designers: Embodiment and epistemic location. Distance Education, 41(2), 171-185. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1757405

Almatrafi, O., & Johri, A. (2019). Systematic review of discussion forums in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 12(3), 413-428. https://doi.org/10.1109/TLT.2018.2859304

Alturkistani, A., Lam, C., Foley, K., Stenfors, T., Blum, E.R., Van Velthoven, M.H., & Meinert, E. (2020). Massive Open Online Course evaluation methods: Systematic review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 22(4). https://doi.org/10.2196/13851

Antonaci, A., Klemke, R., Lataster, J., Kreijns, K., & Specht, M. (2019). Gamification of MOOCs adopting social presence and sense of community to increase user’s engagement: An experimental study. In M. Scheffel, J. Broisin, V. Pammer-Schindler, A. Ioannou, J. Schneider (Eds), Transforming Learning with Meaningful Technologies. EC-TEL 2019. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 11722. (pp. 172-186). Springer https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-29736-7_13

Araka, E., Maina, E., Gitonga, R., & Oboko, R. (2020). Research trends in measurement and intervention tools for self-regulated learning for e-learning environments-systematic review (2008–2018). Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, 15(6). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41039-020-00129-5

Ballesteros, M.L., Mercado, M.A., García, N.J., & Glasserman, L.D. (2020). Teacher professional learning experiences in mooc: Teachers from sonora, Mexico who participated in the key learning collection. Texto Livre, 13(3), 79-102. https://doi.org/10.35699/1983-3652.2020.25099

Blum-Smith, S., Yurkofsky, M. M., & Brennan, K. (2021). Stepping back and stepping in: Facilitating learner-centered experiences in MOOCs. Computers and Education, 160, 104042. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.104042

Cabero-Almenara, J., & Palacios-Rodríguez, A. (2021). La evaluación de la educación virtual: Las e-actividades. RIED, 24(2), 169-188. https://doi.org/10.5944/ried.24.2.28994

Cornelius, S., Calder, C., & Mtika, P. (2019). Understanding learner engagement on a blended course including a MOOC. Research in Learning Technology, 27. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v27.2097

Dai, H.M., Teo, T., Rappa, N.A., & Huang, F. (2020). Explaining Chinese university students’ continuance learning intention in the MOOC setting: A modified expectation confirmation model perspective. Computers and Education, 150, 103850. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.103850

Dale, V.H., & Singer, J. (2019). Learner experiences of a blended course incorporating a MOOC on Haskell functional programming. Research in Learning Technology, 27, 2248. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v27.2248

Deng, R., Benckendorff, P., & Gannaway, D. (2020). Learner engagement in MOOCs: Scale development and validation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(1), 245-262. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12810

Deshpande, A., & Chukhlomin, V. (2017). What makes a good MOOC: A field study of factors impacting student motivation to learn. American Journal of Distance Education, 31(4), 275-293. https://doi.org/10.1080/08923647.2017.1377513

Díaz-Iso, A., Eizaguirre, A., & García-Olalla, A. (2020). A systematic review of the concept of extracurricular activity in higher education. Educacion XX1, 23(2), 307-335. https://doi.org/10.5944/educxx1.25765

Doo, M.Y., Tang, Y., Bonk, C.J., & Zhu, M. (2020). MOOC instructor motivation and career development. Distance Education, 41(1), 26-47. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1724770

Doo, M.Y., Zhu, M., Bonk, C.J., & Tang, Y. (2020). The effects of openness, altruism and instructional self?efficacy on work engagement of MOOC instructors. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(3), 743-760. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12882

Douglas, K.A., Merzdorf, H.E., Hicks, N.M., Sarfraz, M.I., & Bermel, P. (2020). Challenges to assessing motivation in MOOC learners: An application of an argument-based approach. Computers and Education, 150, 103829. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.103829

Er, E., Gómez-Sánchez, E., Bote-Lorenzo, M.L., Dimitriadis, Y., & Asensio-Pérez, J.I. (2020). Generating actionable predictions regarding MOOC learners’ engagement in peer reviews. Behaviour and Information Technology, 39(12), 1356-1373. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144929X.2019.1669222

Escudero-Nahón, A., & Núñez-Urbina, A.A. (2019). Fundamentos teóricos para la transformación de los “Massive Open Online Courses” hacia “Customizable Open Online Courses”. EDMETIC, 8(2), 129-149. https://doi.org/10.21071/edmetic.v8i2.10988

Feitosa, V., Alexandre, C., & Noronha, A.B. (2021). The use of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in blended learning courses and the functional value perceived by students. Computers and Education, 161, 104077. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2020.104077

Firat, M., Kilinç, H., & Yüzer, T. V. (2018). Level of intrinsic motivation of distance education students in e-learning environments. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 34(1), 63-70. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12214

Foley, K., Alturkistani, A., Carter, A., Stenfors, T., Blum, E., Car, J., Majeed, A., Brindley, D., & Meinert, E. (2019). Massive open online courses (MOOC) evaluation methods: Protocol for a systematic review. JMIR Research Protocols, 8(3). https://doi.org/10.2196/12087

Fuentes-Cancell, D., Estrada-Molina, O., & Delgado-Yanes, N. (2021). Las redes sociales digitales: Una valoración socioeducativa. Revisión sistemática. Revista Fuentes, 23(1), 41-52. https://doi.org/10.12795/revistafuentes.2021.v23.i1.11947

Galikyan, I., Admiraal, W., & Kester, L. (2021). MOOC discussion forums: The interplay of the cognitive and the social. Computers and Education, 165, 104133. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2021.104133

Gallego-Romero, J.M., Alario-Hoyos, C., Estévez-Ayres, I., & Delgado Kloos, C. (2020). Analyzing learners’ engagement and behavior in MOOCs on programming with the Codeboard IDE. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(5), 2505-2528. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09773-6

Gordillo, A., López-Pernas, S., & Barra, E. (2019). Effectiveness of MOOCs for teachers in safe ICT use training. [Efectividad de los MOOC para docentes en el uso seguro de las TIC]. Comunicar, 61, 98-107. https://doi.org/10.3916/C61-2019-09

Gros-Salvat, B. (2018). La evolución del e-learning: Del aula virtual a la red. RIED, 21(2), 69-82. https://doi.org/10.5944/ried.21.2.20577

Jarnac, M., & Mira, M. (2020). Systematic literature review about gamification in MOOCs. Open Learning, 1-23. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2020.1798221

Jiménez, J.R. (2017). Integración de un curso MOOC y de un PLN-PLE en un curso presencial sobre fundamentos de la programación. RED, 11(53), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.6018/red/53/11

Joksimovi?, S., Dowell, N., Poquet, O., Kovanovi?, V., Gaševi?, D., Dawson, S., & Graesser, A.C. (2018). Exploring development of social capital in a CMOOC through language and discourse. Internet and Higher Education, 36, 54-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2017.09.004

Joksimovi?, S., Poquet, O., Kovanovi?, V., Dowell, N., Mills, C., Gaševi?, D., Dawson, S., Graesser, A. C., & Brooks, C. (2018). How do we model learning at scale? A systematic review of research on moocs. Review of Educational Research, 88(1), 43-86. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654317740335

Kasch, J., van-Rosmalen, P., Löhr, A., Klemke, R., Antonaci, A., & Kalz, M. (2021). Students’ perceptions of the peer-feedback experience in MOOCs. Distance Education, 42(1), 145-163. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2020.1869522

Khalid, A., Lundqvist, K., & Yates, A. (2020). Recommender systems for MOOCs: A systematic literature survey. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 21(4), 256-291. https://doi.org/10.19173/IRRODL.V21I4.4643

Kovanovi?, V., Joksimovi?, S., Poquet, O., Hennis, T., de-Vries, P., Hatala, M., Dawson, S., Siemens, G., & Gaševi?, D. (2019). Examining communities of inquiry in Massive Open Online Courses: The role of study strategies. Internet and Higher Education, 40, 20-43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2018.09.001

Kubincova, E., Dale, V.H.M., & Kerr, J. (2018). How a MOOC can effectively facilitate student transitions to an online distance postgraduate programme. Research in Learning Technology, 26. https://doi.org/10.25304/rlt.v26.2055

Littenberg-Tobias, J., & Reich, J. (2020). Evaluating access, quality, and equity in online learning: A case study of a MOOC-based blended professional degree program. Internet and Higher Education, 47, 100759. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2020.100759

Lockwood, C., Munn, Z., & Porritt, K. (2015). Qualitative research synthesis: Methodological guidance for systematic reviewers utilizing meta-aggregation. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare, 13(3), 179-187. https://doi.org/10.1097/XEB.0000000000000062

Maina, M. (2020). E-actividades para un aprendizaje activo. In A. Sangrà (Ed.), Decálogo para la mejora de la docencia online. Propuestas para educar en contextos presenciales discontinuos (pp. 81-97). Editorial UOC. https://bit.ly/36G9FV6

Maré, S., & Mutezo, A.T. (2020). The effectiveness of e-tutoring in an open and distance e-learning environment: Evidence from the university of south africa. Open Learning. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2020.1717941

Martinez-Navarro, J. (2021). Indicadores de abandono en contextos MOOC, una aproximación pedagógica desde la literatura. Revista de Ciències de l'Educació, 1(3), 36-59. https://doi.org/10.17345/ute.2020.3.3031

Maya-Jariego, I., Holgado, D., González-Tinoco, E., Castaño-Muñoz, J., & Punie, Y. (2020). Typology of motivation and learning intentions of users in MOOCs: The moocknowledge study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(1), 203-224. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-019-09682-3

Mellati, M., & Khademi, M. (2020). MOOC-based educational program and interaction in distance education: Long life mode of teaching. Interactive Learning Environments, 28(8), 1022-1035. https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2018.1553188

Moher, D., Shamseer, L., Clarke, M., Ghersi, D., Liberati, A., Petticrew, M., Shekelle, P., Stewart, L.A., Estarli, M., Barrera, E.S.A., Martínez-Rodríguez, R., Baladia, E., Agüero, S. D., Camacho, S., Buhring, K., Herrero-López, A., Gil-González, D.M., Altman, D.G., Booth, A., … Whitlock, E. (2016). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Revista Española de Nutrición Humana y Dietética, 20(2), 148-160. https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-4053-4-1

Monique, A., & Chiappe, A. (2020). Los MOOC en la línea del tiempo: Una biografía investigativa de una tendencia educativa. RED, 21(66), 1-31. https://doi.org/10.6018/red.438701

Nortvig, A.M., Petersen, A.K., & Balle, S.H. (2018). A literature review of the factors influencing e-learning and blended learning in relation to learning outcome, student satisfaction and engagement. Electronic Journal of E-Learning, 16(1), 45-55. https://bit.ly/3kBJo2L

Osuna-Acedo, S., Marta-Lazo, C., & Frau-Meigs, D. (2018). From sMOOC to tMOOC, learning towards professional transference. ECO European Project. [De sMOOC a tMOOC, el aprendizaje hacia la transferencia profesional: El proyecto europeo ECO]. Comunicar, 55, 105-114. https://doi.org/10.3916/C55-2018-10

Palacios-Hidalgo, F.J., Huertas-Abril, C.A., & Gómez Parra, M.E. (2020). MOOCs: Origins, concept and didactic applications: A systematic review of the literature (2012–2019). Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 25(4), 853-879. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10758-019-09433-6

Paton, R.M., Fluck, A.E., & Scanlan, J.D. (2018). Engagement and retention in VET MOOCs and online courses: A systematic review of literature from 2013 to 2017. Computers and Education, 125, 191-201. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2018.06.013

Petersen, K., Feldt, R., Mujtaba, S., & Mattsson, M. (2008). Systematic mapping studies in software engineering. In G. Visaggio, M.T. Baldassarre, S. Linkman, & M. Turner (Eds), EASE’08 Proceedings of the 12th internationalconference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering (pp. 68-77). BCS Learning & Development Ltd. ttps://doi.org/10.14236/ewic/EASE2008.8

Prinsloo, P., Slade, S., & Khalil, M. (2019). Student data privacy in MOOCs: a sentiment analysis. Distance Education, 40(3), 395-413. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2019.1632171

Quezada-Cáceres, S., & Salinas-Tapia, C. (2021). Modelo de retroalimentación para el aprendizaje: Una propuesta basada en la revisión de la literatura. Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativa, 26(88), 225-251 https://bit.ly/3z0Ulyt

Rajabalee, B.Y., Santally, M.I., & Rennie, F. (2020). A study of the relationship between students’ engagement and their academic performances in an eLearning environment. E-Learning and Digital Media, 17(1), 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042753019882567

Romero-Frías, E., Arquero, J.L., & del-Barrio-García, S. (2020). Exploring how student motivation relates to acceptance and participation in MOOCs. Interactive Learning Environments, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/10494820.2020.1799020

Sallam, M.H., Martín-Monje, E., & Li, Y. (2020). Research trends in language MOOC studies: A systematic review of the published literature (2012-2018). Computer Assisted Language Learning. https://doi.org/10.1080/09588221.2020.1744668

Sanz-Martínez, L., Er, E., Martínez-Monés, A., Dimitriadis, Y., & Bote-Lorenzo, M.L. (2019). Creating collaborative groups in a MOOC: A homogeneous engagement grouping approach. Behaviour and Information Technology, 38(11), 1107-1121. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144929X.2019.1571109

Shapiro, H.B., Lee, C.H., Wyman Roth, N.E., Li, K., Çetinkaya-Rundel, M., & Canelas, D.A. (2017). Understanding the massive open online course (MOOC) student experience: An examination of attitudes, motivations, and barriers. Computers and Education, 110, 35-50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.03.003

Stöhr, C., Stathakarou, N., Mueller, F., Nifakos, S., & McGrath, C. (2019). Videos as learning objects in MOOCs: A study of specialist and non-specialist participants’ video activity in MOOCs. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(1), 166-176. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12623

Sun, Y., Ni, L., Zhao, Y., Shen, X.L., & Wang, N. (2019). Understanding students’ engagement in MOOCs: An integration of self-determination theory and theory of relationship quality. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(6), 3156-3174. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12724

Tang, H., Xing, W., & Pei, B. (2018). Exploring the temporal dimension of forum participation in MOOCs. Distance Education, 39(3), 353-372. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2018.1476841

Tang, W., Hu, J., Zhang, H., Wu, P., & He, H. (2015). Kappa coefficient: A popular measure of rater agreement. Shanghai Archives of Psychiatry, 27(1), 62-67. https://doi.org/10.11919/j.issn.1002-0829.215010

Teixeira, A.M., Mota, J., Morgado, L., & Do-Carmo-Teixeira-Pinto, M. (2019). Can MOOCs close the Opportunity Gaps? The contribution of social inclusive pedagogical design. Revista Fuentes, 21(2), 239-252. https://doi.org/10.12795/revistafuentes.2019.v21.i2.08

Urrútia, G., & Bonfill, X. (2010). PRISMA declaration: A proposal to improve the publication of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Medicina Cínica, 135(11), 507-511. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.medcli.2010.01.015

Vayre, E., & Vonthron, A.M. (2019). Relational and psychological factors affecting exam participation and student achievement in online college courses. Internet and Higher Education, 43, 100671. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2018.07.001

Velázquez-Sortino, M., Gómez-Zermeño, M.G., & Alemán-De-La-Garza, L. (2017). Interactions in a massive, online, open course (MOOC) for teacher’s. Proposal for a model of analysis. Digital Education Review, 31, 149-175. https://doi.org/10.1344/der.2017.31.149-175

Veletsianos, G., & Shepherdson, P. (2016). A systematic analysis and synthesis of the empirical MOOC literature published in 2013-2015. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 17(2), 198-221. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v17i2.2448

Watted, A., & Barak, M. (2018). Motivating factors of MOOC completers: Comparing between university-affiliated students and general participants. Internet and Higher Education, 37, 11-20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2017.12.001

Wong, J., Baars, M., Davis, D., Van Der Zee, T., Houben, G.J., & Paas, F. (2019). Supporting self-regulated learning in online learning environments and MOOCs: A systematic review. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 35(4-5), 356-373. https://doi.org/10.1080/10447318.2018.1543084

Wu, B. (2021). Influence of MOOC learners discussion forum social interactions on online reviews of MOOC. Education and Information Technologies, 26, 3483–3496. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-020-10412-z

Xing, W., Tang, H., & Pei, B. (2019). Beyond positive and negative emotions: Looking into the role of achievement emotions in discussion forums of MOOCs. Internet and Higher Education, 43, 100690. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2019.100690

Zainuddin, Z., Chu, S.K.W., Shujahat, M., & Perera, C.J. (2020). The impact of gamification on learning and instruction: A systematic review of empirical evidence. Educational Research Review, 30, 100326. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2020.100326

Zhang, J., Sziegat, H., Perris, K., & Zhou, C. (2019). More than access: MOOCs and changes in Chinese higher education. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(2), 108-123. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2019.1602541

Zhu, M., Bonk, C.J., & Doo, M.Y. (2020). Self-directed learning in MOOCs: Exploring the relationships among motivation, self-monitoring, and self-management. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(5), 2073-2093. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09747-8

Zhu, M., Sari, A., & Lee, M.M. (2018). A systematic review of research methods and topics of the empirical MOOC literature (2014–2016). Internet and Higher Education, 37, 31-39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2018.01.002

Zhu, M., Sari, A.R., & Lee, M.M. (2020). A comprehensive systematic review of MOOC research: Research techniques, topics, and trends from 2009 to 2019. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(4), 1685-1710. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09798-x