One reason massive open online courses, or MOOCs, have garnered so much attention is their potential to revolutionize access to education. Putting elite coursework online for free has the potential to bulldoze geographic, race, gender and economic hurdles to learning.
But a new survey by University of Pennsylvania, published today in a brief item in the journal Nature, shows how far the technology needs to go to meet that goal.
Penn surveyed nearly 35,000 students from more than 200 countries and territories who participated in the 32 MOOC courses it distributed through Coursera, which is the largest provider in the field with over 5 million students. The researchers found that most of these students were already well educated, and most of them were young men looking for new skills to advance their careers.
The elite are often first adopters of new technologies, particularly on the Internet. The researchers found that the “educational disparity is particularly stark” in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, where almost 80% of MOOC students came from the wealthiest 6% of the population. Across the board, Penn’s MOOC students had already far exceeded the educational standards found among the general population in their countries.
[ Full article available at The Wall Street Journal: http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2013/11/20/survey-mooc-students-are-elite-young-and-male-2/ ]