Fulfilling the promise: do MOOCs reach the educationally underserved?


Journal Article

© 2015 International Council for Educational Media. When massive open online courses (MOOCs) began, they held the promise of bringing high-quality, college-level courses from leading academic institutions to people who otherwise would not have access to that type of content. In the ensuing years, it has become clear that the majority of MOOC students are not underserved in terms of educational opportunities; the typical MOOC learner already has a college degree. However, this does not mean that MOOCs are failing to fulfill the promise of democratization. Among the millions of learners who have taken Coursera MOOCs, there are some for whom this is their only way to access a rigorous, college-level course. In this analysis, we present descriptions of three learner populations for whom a MOOC offered an opportunity that they could not have had otherwise. These groups are (1) young people under the age of 18, (2) older adults over 65, and (3) people who reported that they did not have access to higher education opportunities. We compare the demographic characteristics, course attitudes and intentions, as well as qualitative learner feedback from each of these groups to the Coursera student body as a whole to understand the unique benefits that MOOCs bring to each of these underserved groups. We used data collected from 13 MOOCs offered by Duke University in the Fall 2014 semester. The data used in this analysis come from pre-course surveys administered to everyone who registered for a Duke MOOC. Finally, we illustrate our findings with qualitative data from open-ended survey questions. Our analysis shows that each group has a unique profile in terms of self-reported course experiences. Contrary to claims that MOOCs are not fulfilling the promise of democratization of education, learners have benefited by gaining access to content and learning experiences they otherwise would not have had.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Schmid, L; Manturuk, K; Simpkins, I; Goldwasser, M; Whitfield, KE

Published Date

  • January 1, 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 52 / 2

Start / End Page

  • 116 - 128

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1469-5790

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0952-3987

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/09523987.2015.1053288

Citation Source

  • Scopus