What Did Google Learn from Offering Online Courses?


Between July 2012 and June 2013, Google offered 5 online courses aimed at teaching internet skills to the internet community at large: Power Searching with Google (versions 1 and 2), Advanced Power Searching, Mapping with Google, and YouTube Creator Academy. The 5 courses were taught to a total of approximately 400,000 students around the world.

After the last course was over, Google published several observations on Google’s Research Blog.

The following points are some takeaways from Google’s experience with online courses:

  • Online learners may find it easier to get involved in a highly structured course rather than a course with a flexible path or many options. Google noted that the online lesson pages in Power Searching with Google generated more page-views than the “challenges” in the Advanced Power Searching course. Google posited that the difference in number of page views may be due to the difference in structure between the two courses; Power Searching with Google was structured in a linear fashion, with a clearcut order of videos and activities, whereas Advanced Power Searching offered students a selection of “challenges” from which to choose.
  • Students might have different goals when taking an online course. Although the completion rate of some of Google’s courses was rather low, it would be misleading to assume that students were dissatisfied with the course. According to a survey administered before the beginning of Mapping With Google, only half of the students were actually interested in following through with the course to completion. The other half of the students reported that they were just interested in learning a few new things. The takeaway here is that a low completion rate of an online course is not necessarily an indication of student dissatisfaction or inadequate teaching methodologies.
  • Course materials – such as videos and activities – from online courses retain significant value even after the course is over. Google found that after the Power Searching course had ended, the course pages still had nearly 3 million page-views. Mapping with Google had 70,000 page views during the 2 months following the course’s end date.

To read the full report including the rest of Google’s observations, see the original post on Google’s Research Blog.

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