The Ideas Advantage: How Sharing Enhances Engagement in Massive Open Online Courses

Research output: Working paper


The higher education industry is currently being disrupted by new digital technologies such as massive open online courses (MOOCs). Although the reach of MOOCs is quite large, their impact is constrained by a low degree of learner engagement. Traditionally, educators have sought to enhance engagement by asking learners to share information about their identity or their ideas. However, compared to a traditional face-to-face class, MOOCs are considerably larger, more diverse and impersonal. Thus, the effect of sharing one’s identity or ideas in a MOOC setting is uncertain. Our research examines the efficacy of these two types of information sharing upon learner engagement in MOOCs by conducting a multi-study (i.e., archival and experimental) investigation of nearly 15,000 learners. Our results reveal that sharing has a positive impact on engagement and that learners who are encouraged to share ideas display significantly higher engagement relative to those encouraged to share their identity. This “idea advantage” is stronger for domestic learners within (rather than outside) the U.S. and for those with prior online learning experience. These results provide new insights for enhancing engagement in MOOCs and uncover intriguing differences between digital and traditional higher education settings.
Original languageEnglish (US)
StateSubmitted - 2020


  • education
  • online environments
  • engagement
  • field experiment

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