MOOCs aren’t reaching their target audience

It was already known that a vast majority of students in massive open online courses (MOOCs) were male, but a newly released survey has more cringe-worthy news for MOOC advocates.

A recent survey showed nine in 10 MOOC students were male.

The University of Pennsylvania published an item in the journal Nature Nov. 20 that said MOOC students were predominantly male, well-educated, and young — a far cry from the under-educated diverse masses for which many MOOC platforms were first designed.

The Nature survey, which included more than 35,000 MOOC students from 200 countries who took a Coursera class, found that most people signed up to take the massive courses were young men looking to complete the class as a resume builder.

The MOOC survey charged that the disparity in education levels was “particularly stark” in Russia, China, South Africa, India, and Brazil, with eight in 10 students from those countries coming from the richest 6 percent of the population.

Study author Ezekiel J. Emanuel wrote that unlike many in higher education hoped, MOOCs have not bolstered the democratization of education. The direct opposite is true, Emanuel said.

“Far from realizing the high ideals of their advocates, MOOCs seem to be reinforcing the advantages of the ‘haves’ rather than educating the ‘have-nots’,” he wrote. “Better access to technology and improved basic education are needed world-wide before MOOCs can genuinely live up to their promise.”

Brandon Alcorn, project manager for global initiatives at Penn, blamed lack of access to technology as a main reason poor people aren’t availing themselves of the opportunity to study online. Many people don’t have the time or basic levels of education required to take the college level courses, he said.

The researchers found that 70 percent of MOOC students are already employed.

“They’re using it as a job training tool rather than an educational tool,” Alcorn said.

Educators can join the conversation with the hashtag #eCNMOOCs. See page 2 for more on the gender gap in MOOCs…