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Students in Free Courses Study, but Not as Much as Most Students Do

Most students in free online courses don’t spend as much time doing classwork as do traditional college students, but they do log a significant number of hours, according to a new survey of more than 4,500 MOOC students by Class Central, a website that reviews free courses.

More than 55 percent of the students surveyed said they studied two to five hours per week, and 22 percent said they spent six to 10 hours per week studying.

How does that compare with traditional college students? About 43 percent of first-year residential college students reported spending more than six hours per week studying, according to the Fall 2014 edition of the Freshman Survey, by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, part of the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Class Central sent out the survey to about 50,000 subscribers to its newsletter, an effort that yielded a few hundred responses. A professor who teaches a massive open online course offered by Coursera also sent the survey to about 800,000 current and former MOOC students, who made up a majority of respondents, said Charlie Chung, chief editor of Class Central’s blog and the survey’s manager.

A majority of the respondents reported having taken at least two MOOCs and came from a sample of students who had enrolled in a course called “Learning to Learn,” which didn’t focus on a particular subject area.

The data show that students do not dedicate one particular time of the week to complete their coursework, Mr. Chung said in an interview. Across the board, students who study during the week tend to do so in the evenings, while those who work on the weekend seem to do so during the day.

“People who are spending a fair amount of time on them are fitting it into their schedules in a very flexible way, not in a rigid way,” he said.

But the sample size of the survey is imperfect, said Justin Reich, a researcher at Harvard University who studies online education.

“The people who respond to surveys about their experience are different than people who take the courses broadly,” Mr. Reich said, adding that the students who complete surveys about MOOCs tend to be the most successful.

CourseTalk, another website that lets users post reviews of MOOCs, also found in a recent survey that students were willing to pay for higher-quality courses, and that paid courses were rated 1.4 stars higher, on average, than free courses were.

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