One mission of massive open online course (MOOC) providers was to provide access to higher education to people who may not be able to afford traditional college, particularly in developing countries. New research from the University of Pennsylvania showed that’s just not happening.
The Penn study found that more than 80% of respondents to its survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 MOOCs offered by university professors on the Coursera platform already had two- or four-year college degrees, while 44% had taken at least some graduate-level courses. The study also showed that 80% of MOOC students from developing countries already held degrees.
The research noted that 40% of the MOOC students were under the age of 30 and 57% were male. More than 60% were employed full-time or self-employed, with nearly half stating the main reason for taking the course was “just for fun” and another 44% wanting to gain skills to enhance their job performance.
“The MOOC phenomenon is very recent,” the authors wrote in the conclusion of the report. “The main users, especially in BRICS (students from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and developing countries tend to be young, well-educated males who are trying to advance in their jobs. While there is tremendous hope for this educational platform, the individuals the MOOC revolution is supposed to help the most—those without access to higher education in developing countries—are conspicuously underrepresented among the early adopters.”
A lack of access to technology is the main reason poorer individuals are not studying online, according to Brandon Alcorn, project manager for global initiatives at Penn. Plus, many people don’t have the time or basic level of education necessary to take college-level courses.