[Editor’s note: This was originally posted on Digital Learning Now’s Blog.]
This is the second post in a series on taking a MOOC. Read the first post here.
When I was first charged with finding and taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course)this summer, my reaction went a little something like: That’s great I’d love to! Wait, where do I find a MOOC? While there are several different providers that offer high quality courses, I had very little idea where I should look. This may be evidence of a major problem.
MOOCs are most effective when they reach those in need of a higher level or quality of work, yet this demographic makes up a remarkably small percentage of MOOC enrollees. More than three-quarters of MOOC participants hold a bachelor’s degree or higher at the time they take the course. More than 70 percent are employed full-time, and the median age of students is 35. In fact, while course offerings seem to be increasing nearly exponentially, they don’t seem to be reaching those who could gain the most from MOOCs. According to recent research, underprivileged learners, at-risk high school students, and students in need of college-level work prep make up the groups that benefit most from MOOCs. Unfortunately, these are the demographics glaringly missing when analyzing MOOC enrollment. While it would be easy to argue this is due to a lack of opportunity or motivation, there is a larger issue at hand.
There is widespread lack of knowledge about MOOCs. As I mentioned in my first post, I had very limited exposure to the world of online courses. I thought I could possibly take a history class if I had the time, but it wasn’t until this assignment that I realized the endless opportunities provided by MOOCs. While social media sites and online courses are very different products, the basic principles are still the same: access at the tip of your fingers. There are more photos sent on Snapchat—a mobile photo-sharing service—every hour (about 29 million) than there are people enrolled in MOOCs around the world (around 20 million), despite both services being available to the same users. If more people use something, word and usage spread. Had word spread to me about MOOCs earlier, I would have taken courses and spread the word, thus aiding in their growth.
Why do MOOCs not attract a broader audience? Providers of these courses could benefit from focusing on certain markets such as blended learning in classrooms as this could help solve enrollment issues and reach out to those who would most benefit from MOOCs. And if students were exposed to MOOCs during high school, either supplementary or complimentary to their normal course load, students would increase their familiarity with MOOCS and may find this beneficial in the future. By reaching out to students who are interested in additional courses or could benefit from another method of learning, MOOCs reach exponentially more people.
When I was in high school, MOOC platforms such as edX or Coursera were not discussed as alternative ways to learn. No one I knew took online courses to supplement their learning or prepare for college. So much of the beauty of MOOCs lies in their widespread availability, yet they must be coupled with widespread awareness. Hopefully the future of MOOCs reaches a point where they provide a positive effect for those who could gain the most from them.
Jake Cohen is a recent high school graduate who will be attending the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Arts and Sciences this fall. He is planning on studying International Relations and History. Jake is an avid golfer, reader, and New England Patriots fan.