“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. Many users come from low- and middle-income backgrounds with varying levels of education and technology skills.”

As it turns out, less than half of the MOOC users surveyed had even completed college, with a quarter of MOOC users reporting high school as their highest level of education completed. This is striking compared to the 71 percent of college graduate users found in a 2015 study from edX that had nearly a third of its respondents based in the U.S.

Despite the developing world users’ lower education levels, though, it was found that they had much higher completion and certification rates. In fact, 49 percent of MOOC users surveyed had received certification for at least one course, and that rate jumped to an even higher 70 percent when limited to employed respondents. In addition to that 49 percent who received certification, another 30 percent of users reported completing at least one course.

While the rate of students in the U.S. and Europe completing at least one MOOC has not been solidified as of press time, individual course completion rates in those regions hover around just 5 to 10 percent.

The reason for the high completion and certification rates may be tied to the fact that users in the three countries take MOOCs primarily to advance their education or career, rather than for enjoyment. The top three motivations users cited were: gaining skills to perform better in their job (61 percent), preparing for additional education (39 percent), and obtaining professional certification (37 percent).

On the other hand, users in more economically-advanced countries tend to report higher levels of taking MOOCs for personal fulfillment. For example, a study of Coursera users with two-thirds of subjects living in developed countries found that more students enrolled “just for fun” over any other reason.

“At CourseTalk, we were heartened to learn that MOOCs are successfully reaching less educated students in developing countries–and with remarkably high certification rates,” said CourseTalk CEO Don Loonam. “This brings us one step closer to fulfilling the original promise of MOOCs: expanding access to affordable, quality education to anyone around the world.”

(Next page: the hurdles to further developing country MOOC success)

About the Author:

Ronald Bethke

Add your opinion to the discussion.