Chair of Physics Education

Language Selection

Breadcrumb Navigation


Michael Dubson: "Apples vs. Oranges: Comparison of Student Performance in a MOOC vs. a Brick-and-Mortar Course"

"In the fall of 2013, my colleagues and I taught the calculus-based introductory physics course to 800 tuition-paying students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At the same time we taught a free massive open online course (MOOC) version of the same course, through The initial enrollment in the MOOC was 10,000 students, of whom 255 completed the course. Students in both courses received identical lectures, homework assignments, and timed exams. We present data on participation rates and exam performance for the two groups. We find that the MOOC is like a drug targeted at a very specific population. When it works, it works well, but it works for very few students. This MOOC worked well for older, well-educated students, who already had a good understanding of Newtonian mechanics. I will include a brief history of the successes and failures of technological innovations in American public education."

Michael Dubson is a Senior Instructor in the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he is Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies and a member of the PER group. He has a BS in Physics from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (1978) and a PhD in condensed matter experiment from Cornell University (1984). He began his career as a condensed matter researcher at Michigan State University. In 1995, he switched fields and joined the faculty at Colorado, where he works on undergraduate curriculum development and interactive instruction. He has won several teaching awards, including the 2006 American Association of Physics Teachers Education Award. He is also a software designer for PhET (, a suite of free interactive simulations for science education.