We review the work of  Zhang et al. (2017) to show that social engagement is vital in completing online learning programs. 


“Active learning works, and social learning works,” said Anant Agarwal, founder and chief executive of edX. We wholeheartedly agree with him. 

Since ancient times, the way students are taught has largely remained the same: A teacher standing in front of a group of students in a classroom from Pre-K all the way through to higher education. This one-on-one and group interaction is by far the most effective way to learn. The problem with this method of direct engagement is that it's costly. In the US, student loan debt is a staggering 1.59 trillion dollars. Student loan debt is the second-largest type of debt in the US after mortgage debt.

Case Study: MOOC's

The answer to the problem of excessive costs associated with higher education came in the form of MOOCs (massive open online courses). Introduced in 2012, MOOCs are a new delivery channel that makes education universally accessible at reduced, if not zero, cost. Unfortunately, the courses had dismal completion rates. In 2013, Christensen et al., (2013) found that on average only 5% of students who registered for a MOOC offered by the University of Pennsylvania completed it. There is no consensus on why exactly the completion rates are so low. It's been argued that it may be a failure of the MOOC model or even as a result of learners not intending to complete a course. 

Social Interaction is Crucial

In light of these findings, Zhang et al., (2017) hypothesized that social interactions might be the key to improving course completion rates, and MOOCs provided the perfect study group to test this. The researchers ran an experiment with 30,317 learners from 183 countries to see if social interactions improved learning outcomes. 

The participants were divided into two groups: Group A was encouraged to visit the discussion board, and Group B was not. Group A increased their visits to the discussion board by 26.5% and their number of postings by 96.8%. On average, they achieved higher course grades and had a 10% higher completion rate. Group B, which was not encouraged to visit the discussion board, had far less social engagement and lower completion rates.

Cognician's Perspective

The results of this study are important outside of MOOCs. Students who discussed new content with other learners showed higher social engagement, higher completion rates, and higher course grades. These findings suggest that a learning experience plus social engagement leads to better outcomes. This is a principle we’ve been using since our founding.

Social engagement creates a sense of belonging by encouraging connections between people. This peer-to-peer connection also creates a sense of working together to achieve common goals. This feature plays an integral part in Cognician’s behavior change programs – so much so that opportunities for social interactions are built into every learning experience.

The Cognician platform allows organizations to better manage this change by upskilling their employees in key areas to meet the changing needs of the working world.

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