University of Pennsylvania study: MOOCs are not bringing the level playing field to education that many thought

24 Nov

Moi wrote in MOOCs are trying to discover a business model which works: Jon Marcus reported in the Washington Post article, Online course start-ups offer virtually free college.
The New York Times reported about the online education trend in the article, Online Enterprises Gain Foothold as Path to a College Degree
Whether MOOCS can develop a business model is discussed in the Economist article, The attack of the MOOCs: An army of new online courses is scaring the wits out of traditional universities. But can they find a viable business model?

Steve Kolowich reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, MOOCs Are Largely Reaching Privileged Learners, Survey Finds:

Most people who take massive open online courses already hold a degree from a traditional institution, according to a new paper from the University of Pennsylvania.
The paper is based on a survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 courses offered by Penn professors on the Coursera platform. The findings—among the first from outside researchers, rather than MOOC providers—reinforce the truism that most people who take MOOCs are already well educated.
The Penn researchers sent the survey to students who had registered for a MOOC and viewed at least one video lecture. More than 80 percent of the respondents had a two- or four-year degree, and 44 percent had some graduate education.
The pattern was true not only of MOOC students in the United States but also learners in other countries. In some foreign countries where MOOCs are popular, such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa, “80 percent of MOOC students come from the wealthiest and most well educated 6 percent of the population,” according to the paper.
In other developing countries, about 80 percent of the MOOC students surveyed already held college degrees—a number staggeringly out of proportion with the share of degree holders in the general population.
“The individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most—those without access to higher education in developing countries—are underrepresented among the early adopters,” write the paper’s six authors…

Edward Luce of the Financial Times chimed in writing in the article, Moocs are no magic bullet for educating Americans.

Luce writes:

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Where does all this leave the Moocs? As the techno-optimists keep pointing out, we can now download the Library of Congress and Ivy League lectures for free. A few motivated groups, such as older employees trying to keep pace, reservists in the US military and ambitious youngsters in places such as India, tend to finish online degrees. But most people, including Mr Thrun’s enrollees, rapidly lose interest. The real challenge facing US educators, in other words, is to motivate the unenthused majority. This is far easier said than done. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
Insurance companies call America’s millennial generation the “invincibles”, because the young rarely worry about their health. But I prefer Mr Cowen’s moniker of the “limbo generation”, since they are worried sick about their financial prospects. The newest portion of the US workforce is saddled with more than $1tn of debts in a market that isn’t paying. Those who thrive in this less forgiving world will be savvy enough to tap the boundless resources they can get from Moocs in particular and the internet in general. Alas, Udacity’s setback reminds us that they are almost certainly in a minority. At best computers can offer a partial answer to America’s education crisis. Though we tend to cost more, the rest of it is down to human beings.


Nov 23 at 8:39 PM
The MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why?
Gayle Christensen

Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania
Andrew Steinmetz

Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania
Brandon Alcorn

Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania
Amy Bennett

Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania
Deirdre Woods
Office of the Provost, University of Pennsylvania

Ezekiel J Emanuel
Office of the Provost, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Department of Health Care Management, University of Pennsylvania

November 6, 2013

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have commanded considerable public attention due to their sudden rise and disruptive potential. But there are no robust, published data that describe who is taking these courses and why they are doing so. As such, we do not yet know how transformative the MOOC phenomenon can or will be. We conducted an online survey of students enrolled in at least one of the University of Pennsylvania’s 32 MOOCs offed on the Coursera platform. The student population tends to be young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries. There are significantly more males than females taking MOOCs, especially in BRIC and other developing countries. Students’ main reasons for taking a MOOC are advancing in their current job and satisfying curiosity. The individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most — those without access to higher education in developing countries — are underrepresented among the early adopters.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 25
Keywords: MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, Online Education, Distance Education
working papers series

With any education opportunity the prospective student and their family must do their homework and weigh the pros and cons of the institution with with the student’s goals and objectives. In answer to the question of whether online college is a threat to traditional bricks and mortar universities, it depends. The market will answer that question because many students do not attend college to receive a liberal arts education, but to increase employment opportunities. If the market accepts badges and certificates, then colleges may be forced to look at the costs associated with a traditional college degree.


Verifying identity for online courses

Will ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCS) begin to offer credit?

Is online higher ed a threat to bricks and mortar colleges?

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