As one of the students in the open course run by yourself and George, my two cents on the issue of high dropout rates is this:
As the course was free (ie. open), with no established ‘accreditation’ resulting from successful completion or penalty for incompletion (ie. open) and no pre-fabricated right or wrong answers to the issues raised in the course (ie. open), students could, as you say, glean what they needed from the course and then invest no further.
To me this is a good thing — compared to a ‘commodity’ course, in which students pay to learn to produce the ‘right’ answers so that they can be rewarded with marketable accreditation, itself a valued commodity. Dropouts in the commodity context would be doubly punished, losing both the value of their initial financial investment as well as the potential value of the unearned accreditation. So the commodity context incentivizes successful completion more than the open context — but not necessarily successful ‘learning’ — which I define here as critical engagement with the ideas under study and access to contradictory perspectives regarding those.
The open context allowed for more diversity of opinion and challenging of perspectives put forth by the course and instructors. I remember with a smile the debates that ensued among instructors and participants during the ‘creative and/versus critical thinking’ section of the course — which, as with many of the issues under study, concluded with no single ‘right’ answer, but which I’m sure expanded the thinking around these issues for those who participated.
So I think there are two different value systems at play here, and a simple comparison of statistical data such as registration or dropout rates is insufficient to draw conclusions about the success, or lack thereof, of the open course format.
Personally, I thought the open course did the best job I’ve seen of transparently applying learning theories — in particular by privileging learner needs over institutional or financial needs (bums in seats), and I walked away with a treasure trove of resources, ideas and connections which will be of value to me as I move forward in building my own knowledge around my chosen career path.
But then I’m one of those people who is less interested in using education to get a job than to build my own practice as I see fit.