Factors affecting student dropout in MOOCs: a cause and effect decision‐making model

Hanan Aldowah, Hosam Al-Samarraie, Ahmed Ibrahim Alzahrani, Nasser Alalwan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)
1022 Downloads (Pure)


Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are among the latest e-learning initiative that have gained a wide popularity among many universities. Student dropout in MOOCs is a major concern in the higher education and policy-making communities. Most student dropout is caused by factors outside the institution’s control. In this study, a multiple-criteria decision-making method was used to identify the core factors and possible causal relationships responsible for the high dropout rate in MOOCs. Twelve factors, distributed across four dimensions, related to students’ dropout from online courses were identified from the literature. Then, a total of 17 experienced instructors in MOOCs from different higher education institutions were invited to assess the level of influence of these factors on each other. The results identified six core factors that directly influenced student dropout in MOOCs, these were: academic skills and abilities, prior experience, course design, feedback, social presence, and social support. Other factors such as interaction, course difficulty and time, commitment, motivation, and family/work circumstances were found to play a secondary role in relation to student dropout in MOOCs. The causal relationships between the primary and secondary factors were mapped and described. Outcomes from this study can offer the necessary insights for educators and decision makers to understand the cause–effect relationships between the factors influencing MOOC student dropout, thus providing relevant interventions in order to reduce the high dropout rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-454
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Computing in Higher Education
Issue number2
Early online date17 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

The final publication is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12528-019-09241-y

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


King Saud University for funding this work through research Group No. (RG-1438-062)


  • Dropout
  • Higher education
  • Lifelong learning
  • MOOC
  • Online learning environments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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