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Coursera Survey Pins Down MOOC Benefits

More than seven in 10 learners report career benefits and more than six in 10 report educational benefits from completing massive open online courses (MOOCs). Participants from developing countries and particularly those with lower socioeconomic status and less education appear to be more likely to report benefits from pursuing MOOCs.

Those results and others come out of the first major research survey done among Coursera learners and reported in the Harvard Business Review. The survey was sent in December to 780,000 people from 212 countries who had completed a Coursera course prior to September 2014. The researchers received 51,954 survey responses from people in every one of those countries. The top ones represented were the United States, China, India and Brazil. Fifty nine percent of respondents were male; 58 percent were employed full-time; and the most common age was 26 to 35. The five-person research team included two data scientists and the president from Coursera, the assistant vice provost for global affairs at the University of Washington and a former project manager for Penn Global at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study asked people to state their motivations for taking a MOOC, then divided them into two "core" groups: career builders (pinpointed by 72 percent of respondents, but referenced as the primary driver by 52 percent) and education seekers (chosen by 61 percent, but designated as the primary motivation by 28 percent).

Among career builders:

  • Nearly nine in 10 reported benefits that included improved candidacy for a new position or becoming better prepared for a current job;
  • More than a third (34 percent) said they had already received tangible benefits, such as a pay raise, a promotion, a new job or the start of a new business. That was more likely among those going after a certificate than those who simply completed the course; and
  • They were more likely to report such benefits if they had no college degree or came from an emerging economy or a lower income background.

Among education seekers:

  • Almost nine in 10 (88 percent) referenced benefits such as acquiring knowledge in their current field of study, deciding on a new field, refreshing concepts before going back to school or improving college admissions;
  • As with career builders, the education seekers who benefited the most came from lower income brackets and emerging economies;
  • Tangible benefits, reported by 18 percent, included college credits or fulfilling prerequisites towards a degree;
  • About half (47 percent) of these students are in traditional academic settings. Among those, the most common benefits were gains in knowledge in a given field of study (77 percent) and deciding on a field of study (40 percent), results that were consistent across region, education and socioeconomic status; and
  • Older, non-students using MOOCs pointed to their intention to return to school at some point. Among respondents aged 25 to 40 who said they were full-time homemakers or caregivers, they were more likely to report the use of MOOCs to refresh key concepts prior to returning to school.

The authors of the research article noted that their findings show "the possibilities MOOCs offer to change the educational landscape." MOOC courses are "reaching large numbers of people, and disadvantaged learners are more likely to report tangible benefits." While not a "cure-all" for what ails global education, MOOCs are a "step in the right direction, providing open access to a learning experience that many find beneficial for furthering their education and careers."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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