Online Learning | Research

Survey Finds Understanding, Support of MOOCs a Mixed Bag

A public opinion survey conducted by Brodeur Partners of parents, students, alumni, donors, and employers in the United States regarding attitudes and understanding of massive open online courses has come back with mixed results, hinting that a full-fledged switch to MOOCs for the higher education experience may not be the wisest choice for colleges in the immediate future.

While more than four in five (82 percent) of all respondents were familiar with the concept of online courses, only 23 percent of all survey respondents are familiar with MOOCs. Those most familiar with MOOCs were employers (33 percent) and students (30 percent) the least familiar were parents (23 percent).

In theory, audiences leaned modestly in favor of the idea of MOOCs. When provided a neutral description of MOOCs, 37 percent of respondents think it is a good idea for colleges to participate, while 26 percent think it is a bad idea.

And while students were the audience most aware of online courses in general, they were the least likely to say MOOCs were a good idea (26 percent) compared to 41 percent of alumni who thought MOOCs were a good idea.

Other key findings of the survey included:

  • When it came to influencing their desire to attend a particular college, students were overall neutral, with 23 percent saying it would make them more likely to want to attend the school, 26 percent less likely;
  • When alumni were asked if a MOOC program would influence their decision to donate to that college, the response was a net negative — 26 percent said it would make them less likely and only 13 percent said it would make them more likely to donate;
  • Parents are more interested in MOOCs for themselves than their children, with 17 percent of parents saying they would be more likely to want a son or daughter to attend a college that offered many of their courses online or through MOOCs while nearly twice as many (31 percent) said they would be less likely;
  • At the same time 47 percent of parents said they were personally interested in participating in a MOOC compared to only 37 percent of students.

Included in the survey was testing of the messaging used in support or opposition of MOOC programs. For this portion, the survey used a message-testing methodology known as M3 (MaxDiff Message Modeling), according to the information released by Brodeur.

The survey found that the most effective messages in support of MOOCs were arguments that they made higher education more widely available and more affordable and provided greater flexibility to the student, while the strongest opposition messages were that they risk compromising the "traditional college experience" and that they did not have the benefits of in-person instruction with a professor.

"Like retail, travel services, and newspapers before them, higher education will need to figure out how to incorporate the benefits of the new technologies while not losing the heart and soul of who they are and what they do," said John Brodeur, chairman of Brodeur Partners. "Our no. 1 takeaway on MOOCs for all institutions is to communicate why or why not you are joining the movement. It should always be more about the student than the institution, more about the experience than the infrastructure, and more about the content than the methodology."

About the Author

Kevin Hudson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached at sportswryter@yahoo.com.

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