Unlike in the U.S., completion and certification rates are actually growing for developing country MOOC users.

A new study from researchers at the University of Washington has revealed that half of developing country MOOC users are receiving certification. And while many assume that the main barrier to developing country MOOC use is lack of technology skills or access, the huge barrier to sign-up has nothing to do with technology, say non-users.

These are just of the interesting statistics gleaned from a survey of 1,400 MOOC users and 2,250 non-users between the ages of 18 and 35 in Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa–part of research conducted by the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) at the University of Washington’s Information School. The data shows that learners in developing countries are using MOOCs very differently than their developed world counterparts. Namely, it found that these learners have much higher MOOC completion rates as well as different user demographics.

However, developing countries still have barriers to online learning of their own to overcome.

(Next page: Statistics about the successes of developing country MOOC users, as well as their challenges)

“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)

Despite great improvements and expanding access, the research also identified hurdles that inhibit MOOC use in Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa.

The most significant barrier is awareness, with 79 percent of non-users reporting they had never even heard of a MOOC. Among that group, though, there was not any notable demographic difference between that group and non-users who were familiar with MOOCs.

Among non-users who were familiar, though, the most common reason for not enrolling was by far a lack of time. This was the top answer in all three countries, with half of the respondents reporting this as their reason. Even 49 percent of existing users do not enroll more frequently because of time constraints.

The finding is significant, emphasized the report, because it has been a widely-held assumption that technology is the main hurdle facing MOOC adoption in developing countries. However, technical reasons for non-use were rarely cited, with factors such as high internet cost (6 percent), low computer skills (2 percent) and lack of computer access (4 percent) being some of the least-frequently mentioned.

“In each of the countries studied, awareness was the determining factor in whether people enrolled in MOOCs,” said Scott Andersen, director of the Advancing MOOCs for Development Initiative at IREX. “Governments and businesses can capitalize on this new form of educational outreach by encouraging lifelong learning, supporting the development of contemporary skills, and recognizing certification.”

The survey and study are a central component of the Advancing MOOCs for Development Initiative, which aims to harness the power of MOOCs to help young adults across the developing world obtain successful careers. The initiative was launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development and CourseTalk, and is managed by IREX. For more information on the Advancing MOOCs for Development Initiative, email advancingmoocs@coursetalk.com, and click here for the full report.

About the Author:

Ronald Bethke


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