Lately, Anant Agarwal writes on Huffington Post, I’ve noticed that much of the discussion around massive open online courses (MOOCs) has focused almost exclusively on one point: Completion rates, or those students who achieve a certificate in a particular course. While this data point, borrowed from the traditional university model, is certainly an important measure, it only represents one small segment of a very diverse group of MOOC learners eager for access to education. We’ve learned a lot from the first year of courses offered on edX, and the recently released working papers from Harvard and MIT shed new light on the diversity of our students and how they are using our courses.

Before looking at the goals of our learners, let’s take a look at who they are. MOOC learners are diverse, coming from many cultures across the globe and all ages and backgrounds. For instance, edX learners, who now number two million, range in ages from eight to 95, come from every country in the world and have varying levels of education. We see learners from elementary schoolers to Ph.D.s. Despite this diversity, three main attributes unite them: A desire to learn, a desire to connect to a global community and a desire to experience and consume content online.

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