Turn on, tune in, drop out

EDUx, a new collaboration in online learning between Harvard and M.I.T., is newsy enough to receive splashy treatment in the New York Times today, including home-page link placement this morning.
But I think the Times buried the lede, for in the second paragraph is this nugget: “[M.I.T.’s first online course] began in March, enrolling about 120,000 students, some 10,000 of whom made it through the recent midterm exam.”
Or, to be more specific, the inaugural MITx class has an attrition rate of at least 91 percent.
As with all online data reporting, the truth is beyond the glossy top-line numbers. MITx claims 120,000 registrants, but it’s really 10,000 who have a level of engagement, perhaps less if we track it to the final exam; the rest are, in the old brick-and-mortar school terminology, dropouts. Twitter has 500 million users but 50 million daily active ones. Et cetera.
Perhaps MITx is on par with typical Internet usage, with 10 percent of interested users generating full engagement. I much prefer that data point to considering the 110,000 quitters MITx has on its hands. No wonder it’s hard to get into M.I.T.