Draft – originally published in: Ebner, M., Schön, S. (2019) Inverse Blended Learning – a didactical
concept for MOOCs and ist positive effects on dropout-rates. In: The Impact of MOOCs on Distance
Education in Malaysia and Beyond. Ally, M., Amin Embi, M., Norman, H. (eds.). Routledge. ISBN
Inverse Blended Learning – a didactical concept
for MOOCs and its positive effects on dropout-
Martin EBNER1, Sandra Schön2
1Graz University of Technology, Educational Technology mar-
2Salzburg Research, Innovation Lab
Massive Open Online Courses, shortly MOOS, are one important trend of technology-
enhanced learning of the last years. In this contribution we introduce a new didactical
approach that we call “inverse blended learning” (IBL). Whereas “blended learning” is
the enrichment of traditional learning settings through online inputs or phases, the IBL
approach aims to enhance a pure online course with additional offline meetings for
exchange and practising. Within two case studies the concept was tested and evaluated.
The research study points out that the typical high dropout rate for MOOCs decreased
arbitrarily. Therefore we recommend introducing the didactical approach of inverse
blended learning in future MOOCs, if applicable.
MOOC, Inverse Blended Learning, online learning, dropout rate
Massive Open Online Courses, shortly MOOCs, are well known since years now and
be an important part of the research area of Technology Enhanced Learning. More than
8 years ago, George Siemens and Stephen Downes started their first online course on
open global online learning (McAuley et al., 2010) (Perry, 2010). Just a couple of
months later, famous universities like Stanford, Harvard or MIT attracted thousands of
learners all over the world with their MOOCs on their MOOC platforms (Carson &
Schmidt, 2012). In 2012 we celebrated the “Year of the MOOC” (Pappano, 2012). Due
to Sebastian Thrun, who attracted more than 160.000 participants with his course on
Artificial Intelligence in the summer of 2011, MOOCs became attractive and got a
wide publicity (Fred, 2012). Since then an online course with more than 150 partici-
pants (Dunbar number) was called MOOC, if the crucial elements were fulfilled: The
course must be open to anyone, online accessible and finally presented within a course
framework (start- and end-time of the course, weekly new content etc.).
Besides the success stories and, sometimes enthusiastic, medial echo on MOOCs, the
high amount of learners who resigned their participation within a MOOC was always
seen as a challenge. The so-called dropout rate is calculated as the proportion of regis-
tered learners who finally completed the course and the sum of registered participants
of one MOOC. For example, in the mentioned course of Sebastian Thrun only 23.000
completed, which means a dropout rate of approximately 93 per cent. Katy Jordan
(2013) visualized the MOOC completion rates from 50 investigated MOOCs. She re-
ported that all those courses did not cover a completion rate of more than 10 per cent.
On average she pointed out that only 7,5 per cent of registered users come to an end.
Similar Meyer (2012) found out that the dropout rate of MOOCs offered by the famous
MOOC platforms of Stanford, MIT or Berkley stays between 80 and 95 per cent. There
are even more literature outside e. g. (Rivard, 2013) (Bruff, 2013) (Khalil & Ebner,
2014) reporting on those high dropout rates. Of course there are also hints how the
dropout rate can be reduced, for example by increasing the interaction between learners
and teachers or offering more interactive components during the course (Khalil & Eb-
But if we take a closer look to at the now common MOOC design of an so-called
“xMOOC”, it becomes rather obvious while there might be a problem of dropping out:
A typical xMOOC is rather presentation-oriented, because the main components are
different kind of videos together with a self-assessment possibility (Wedekind, 2013)
and is following the idea of self-regulated learning. Personal assistance or any kind of
other cooperation is due to financial issues not a key component (Lackner et al., 2014).
The exchange between learners is typically supported by a discussion forum, but fur-
ther communication possibilities are rare. Bearing in mind that learning is not only an
active process on the part of the learner but also a social process and proceeds through
conversation (Dewey, 1916) (Soloway & Bielaczyc, 1996) (Holzinger, 2002), MOOCs
must be strengthened in that way.
In this publication we introduce a new didactical approach called “Inverse Blended
Learning” and point out the results of two different use cases following it.
2 Inverse Blended Learning
After studying the literature and being confronted with doing MOOCs for a broad mass
of people, especially those who haven’t a very well founded digital literacy a new di-
dactical approach has been invented. Following the idea of blended learning – where
face-to-face education is interrupted with online elements – the idea was to bring the
pure online course a little bit back to real life situations.
Figure 1: Inverse Blended Learning
Fig. 1 shows the difference between blended learning and inverse blended learning.
Once we have a typical face-to-face education approach, which is enhanced with online
elements. Whereas the didactical approach of inverse blended learning bases on an
online course, which will be enhanced by face-to-face elements. Those face-to-face
elements can be manifold and should support the social learning process amongst
The most known examples of those social elements are regional learning groups, most-
ly founded by learners themselves. Those groups appeared because learners want to
discuss the content of the course with others, share their experiences or like to do the
assessments together. Nevertheless it is quite hard to find nearby participants within the
MOOC-platforms, because the discussion forums are confusing and there are no assist-
ing tools (Bruff, 2013). Coursera founded therefore so-called “learning hubs”
(https://www.coursera.org/about/programs/learningHubs; last access August 2017)
where MOOC participants can be part of learning groups and will find Internet access
as well. One of those places is the New York Public Library (Kolowich, 2014). Similar
the “IchMOOC” in the German speaking area offered so-called MOOCbars, which
were located anywhere in Germany to the same time (synchronous), where additional
live-streams of the course were watched together (Röthler & Creelman, 2016).
3 How to establish inverse blended learning:
OER strategy and co-operations
Typically, MOOCs are planned and designed to address a huge amount of people from
all over the world or a big region. MOOC providers are typically not also involved in
widespread learning activities within the same regions, for example local libraries or
small institutions for adult education.
Inverse blended learning therefore also needs a lot of local co-operation in the whole
region of the MOOC. But how does MOOC provider can build and establish such co-
Especially in Western Europe the copyright regulations do not allow to use materials of
others, although they published it for free in the Web (as MOOC content is typically
published) (Ebner et al., 2014b). To allow usage of course materials for others, above
private usage of single learners, the use of open license are obligatory and without
alternatives. Open or free license allows free usage, modification as well commercial
use of materials – all options are crucial to allow third parties to provide a MOOC with
local adult education institutions. Such materials are also called “Open Educational
Resources”, in short OER (Ebner et al., 2016).
Besides this legal issue OER is additionally an invitation to share and use materials as
well. Nevertheless, other organisation will still hesitate to use MOOC or MOOC mate-
rials for own offers. Therefore MOOC makers need to invest in the establishment of
such additional offers by third parties. This includes that the regional offers should be
available and described on the platform as well.
As open license allows also commercial use, regional offers can also cost something
for the learners. Within our following two cases, most of the offers were for free and
also are seen as a contribution to free educations (especially if provided by volunteers)
or also as promotion activity for new learners (especially by adult learner’s institu-
tions). Nevertheless, only a minority of the IBL offers by third parties cost something.
4 Two case studies on IBL for MOOCS and its
effect on dropout
In the following we present two different case studies we did on the Austrian MOOC-
platform called iMooX (http://imoox.at). iMooX was founded in 2013 as an MOOC-
platform for so called xMOOCs with a special eye on German speaking courses (Ebner
et al. 2015). Additionally all courses hold on this platform must be offered as Open
Educational Resource (OER) (Ebner et al., 2016). Each single course hold following
• Each course provides a starting point, a particular date. From this date an, new
content is offered on a weekly base.
• Each MOOC lasted between 4 and 10 weeks, depending on the course content.
• Each single course provided announcements, the core content, additional files,
a weekly self-assessment, a final evaluation form and the final certificate and a
• The core content consists of at least one new video per week (typically about
10-15 minutes long), further related documents and hyperlinks, sometimes ad-
ditional learning tasks and assignments and a self-assessment (multiple- or
single choice questions).
• Each course provided a final certificate if all self-assessments were successful
done by a success rate of 70 per cent for each of them. In some MOOCs addi-
tionally virtual badges can be earned for each single week or just for the whole
In summary over the time period of three years more than 40 courses were offered for
more than 18.000 registered learners. On minimum more than 200 learners joined a
course, on maximum more than 3000 (Kopp & Ebner, 2015).
4.1 Case Study One: MOOC on “Free Online Learning”
The MOOC „Free Online Learning“ (in German language „Gratis Online Lernen“)
focussed on learners who are interested in using the World Wide Web for learning for
the very first time. The course itself helps with tips and tricks for successful self-
regulated learning and was given from October to December 2014 for the first time.
The main target group of the course was novice learners who have maybe never or just
very less used the Internet for learning purposes. Therefore the didactical approach of
Inverse Blended Learning seems to be perfect, because it aims to bring the online
world to the learners step by step.
The course itself lasted 8 weeks and introduces self-regulated learning with the Internet
to the participants. Each week new content was offered by giving access to a video in
the style of sketched explain videos first introduced by Common Craft (Schön & Eb-
ner, 2013). Additionally a workbook with 28 pages was available (online and also as
printed version) where further hints and assignments for the course were placed. In the
discussion forum the discussion of possible assignments solutions can be discussed.
Inverse Blended Learning implementation
According to our didactical approach additional to the online course we tried to arrange
face-to-face meetings and trainings, which are running in parallel to the course. There-
fore an online call, a couple of months before course start, was asking for volunteers
who like to organize a face-to-face meeting for the course. In summary, we gathered
more than 40 educational institutions, private trainers or even online trainers for those
face-to-face meetings. Each trainer got additional information about the course, the
course content and was put to the online list where learners were able to choose their
face-to-face meeting from.
The course itself attracted many participants because of the good marketing in the ger-
man speaking area.
ADD Fig. 2 HERE
Figure 2: Learners Overview
As Figure 2 pointed out more than 1.000 participants registered to the course. More
interesting is that 479 of those got active. This means that at least one video was
watched or one self-assessment or one post in the forum was done. From those 479
participants, 217 completed the course. This means a success rate (SR) of 45 per cent
or a dropout rate (DO) of only 55 per cent. Compared to a typical course (see Fig. 2)
from 461 active participants only 131 completed (SR=28%; DO=72%).
Based on follow-up interviews the trainer mentioned that about 4 to 8 learners (on
average) used the face-to-face meeting on a regularly basis. Additionally the evaluation
form at the end of the course pointed out that more than half of the successful learners
used the possibility of a face-to-face meeting.
4.2 Case Study Two: MOOC on “Digital tools for adult education
The second case study on Inverse Blended Learning was happening through the
MOOC on “Digital tools for adult education trainers” (in German language “Digitale
Werkzeuge für ErwachsenenbildnerInnen”). The MOOC itself started in March 2018
and lasted 6 weeks. The topics of the course focused on digital tools, copyright law,
and practical tips for the work as adult trainer. Each week a couple of videos (2-3) were
offered, most of them a mix of interviews and screencasts. Additionally transcripts of
the spoken words were offered in pdf format and further hand-outs as well as hyper-
links to interesting websites. Of course a discussion forum and self-assessments each
week were available for the learners. Participants were able to collect virtual badges for
each week. Finally every second week a webinar of about 2 hours was part of the
course, where learners got the possibility to talk with the course teachers about the
topics of the MOOC.
The making of the course started already in May 2017, nearly one year before the offi-
cial start of the MOOC. From the very first beginning the didactical approach Inverse
Blended Learning was chosen and therefore the idea of offline learning groups became
a main part. Due to the fact that the course lecturers are very well known in the Austri-
an adult education a detailed plan was carried how trainers can be motivated to offer
offline trainings in parallel to the MOOC. Therefore, from June 2017 till October 2017
a lot of personal talks and invitations have been made to potential trainers. In Novem-
ber a first personal meeting was organized where more than 40 trainers attended. The
MOOC team presented the idea of the MOOC, the idea of the didactical approach of
Inverse Blended learning and how the offline meetings should happened. Additionally
all necessary information was given away by a hand-out. Afterwards trainers offered
their trainings on their local websites, printed announcement and all were listed on a
central website on the MOOC registration site. One month before start all trainers get a
private link for a previews to the MOOC and were able to explore the videos, materials
as well as the MOOC environment to become familiar with it.
Inverse Blended Learning implementation
In summary more than 40 local additional learning groups were listed on the start site
of the MOOC right before the start. The trainers reported that up 20 people like to visit
the offline settings. There was also one online training offer, where 5 learners get the
weekly discussion round virtually. Finally, some just-in-time groups were formed
With the help of the trainers and their local learning groups the MOOC attracted more
thank 3061 participants in the German speaking area. According to other research stud-
ies (Ebner et al., 2014a) the number of registered users is outreaching for a MOOC in
German language. This time 2.247 of the learners got active. This means that at least
one video was watched or one self-assessment or one post in the forum was done.
From those 2.247, 1.083 completed the course. This means a success rate (SR) of 48
per cent or a dropout rate (DO) of only 52 per cent. Compared to case study one the
participations increased and is again far higher than typical MOOCs.
Both case studies pointed out that the didactical approach of inverse blended learning
(IBL) for MOOCs seems to be successful. Especially, if a look to the dropout rate is
done. In both cases success rate is obviously higher than in pure online courses.
In order to study the offline trainings and their influence on the success rate an online
survey with additional interviews was carried out about one month after the end of the
MOOC. In summary, 46 trainers took part and provided us with feedback. 85 per cent
(n=39) of the trainers give finally their offline trainings. 6 of them mentioned that no or
to few learners registered so they skipped it. From those 39, 27 (69%) pointed out that
they did all preannounced lessons, on average they meet 4 times along the course with
an average meeting time of 1,5 hours.
ADD FIG. 3 HERE
Figure 3: Number of participants of the first and last lesson
Figure 3 gives an impression about how many learners attended the offline meetings.
On average 8 learners visited the first lesson and 7 the last. With other words the drop-
out rate in those offline scenarios was very low. 82 per cent of the learners remained in
the offline trainings and therefore also in the MOOC.
Finally the survey also asked for reasons why those offline trainings worked. The
trainers mentioned that the information exchange between learners was more attractive
as just using the discussion forum. Furthermore learners themselves motivated each
other to move further on or just provided their personal experiences learning with the
MOOC. In summary, trainers pointed out that the learners spoke about their positive
mood and love to network. Of course troubles according technical issues could be re-
solved easily. The regularly meetings also assisted the learners to work on time and
changed also their imagination of online learning. Many trainers mentioned that due to
this MOOC online learning became a future option for most of their participants.
Of course there were also some obstacles, which should be resolved in future settings:
• Less preparation: Trainers reported that the preparation of the learners for the
offline meetings is crucial. Learners, who did not prepare well, were not able
to discuss the problems of the current week.
• Less time: The needed time to do the online course is a precondition for being
part of an offline meeting. If a learner is not able to invest the time on a week-
ly base it is difficult to follow.
• Less interest: Some trainers mentioned that learners just seem to be interested
in the topics of particular weeks. This leads also to problems, because those
learners were not able to follow the discussions in a long run.
In this research study we introduced the didactical approach of Inverse Blended Learn-
ing for Massive Open Online Courses. The concept bases on the idea that pure online
courses need also an offline component for exchange and socializing between learners,
to give them the feeling that there are other learners outside who struggle with similar
problems. With the help of two case studies done on the Austria MOOC platform
iMooX we are able to show that with the help of this didactical approach the success
rate increased and the dropout rate decreased dramatically. Therefore we recommend
for future MOOCs that more regional or local training groups should be established.
Nevertheless, it is important to think about the didactical concept for the offline lessons
in more detail. Similar to the concept of flipped/inverse classroom, the learning content
is provided online and the offline lessons are intended to be a possibility to exercise
and exchange. MOOC makers can enhance this also with design a concept for a IBL
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