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Half of MOOC Users in Developing Countries Get Certificates

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington has found that the use of massive open online courses is much different in emerging countries than in the United States and, in some ways, more in line with what MOOC's original proponents had in mind.

The survey, conducted by the Technology and Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the university's Information School, polled 1,400 MOOC users and 2,250 non-users aged 18 to 35 in Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa. Nearly half of those who had taken a MOOC had received certification in at least one course. The rate was even higher – 70 percent – for those who were employed.

No research apparently exists on how many MOOC users in the United States and Europe have completed courses. However, individual course completion averages between 5 and 10 percent.

Compared to the U.S., more MOOC users in the developing countries indicated they did not have a college education, suggesting they were using the courses to advance their careers or education. Less than half of the MOOC users surveyed in the developing countries had completed college, compared with 71 percent of U.S. users in a similar 2015 study. About a quarter of MOOC users in the developing world who were surveyed said they had completed high school.

"Many people assumed that in developing countries, MOOCs would only be used by the rich and well-educated," said lead researcher Maria Garrido, a research assistant professor at TASCHA. "We were excited to find that this is not the case."

The three reasons for taking MOOCs most cited by users in the three countries were:

  • To gain skills to perform their jobs better (61 percent);
  • To prepare for additional education (39 percent); and
  • To obtain professional certification (37 percent).

By comparison, in a recent study of Coursera users in more economically advanced countries, two-thirds said they pursued MOOCs for personal fulfillment.

Finally, 79 percent of non-users said they had never heard of MOOCs. Similar research of American users was not available.

The full study is available for download here.

About the Author

Michael Hart is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and the former executive editor of THE Journal.

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