Do MOOCs Help?

23 Sep

By Carl Straumsheim

Unlike at colleges and universities, where students finish their studies and leave with a diploma, most learners who complete one of Coursera’s massive open online courses report benefits that help them in less measurable ways.

But results from a new report, billed as “the first longitudinal study of open online learning outcomes,” also suggests many learners credit MOOCs directly for pay raises, promotions, academic progress and more.

Specifically, the report corroborates previous findings that more learners are using MOOCs to further their careers than their education, and also that those from less-advantaged backgrounds are most likely to benefit from the courses. The full report, titled “Impact Revealed: Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses,” appears in Harvard Business Review.

“The impetus for doing this was we’ve been offering access to amazing education for years now, but people have been asking us, ‘It’s great that you’re doing this, but are you helping anybody?’” said Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera. The MOOC provider has always believed it is helping people, she said, “but belief and data are two different things.”

Brandon Alcorn, Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Gayle Christensen, three prominent MOOC researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, are behind the study. It builds on preliminary internal research from Coursera, which also provided some logistical support but did not fund the study.

Those names should sound familiar to anyone following MOOC research; the team’s previous research has helped shape public understanding of online courses, the people who enroll in them and their effect on traditional higher education.

Using data from MOOCs offered by the University of Pennsylvania, Alcorn, Christensen and Emanuel were some of the first to suggest that MOOC learners were more likely to be employed men in developed countries who had previously earned a degree — countering the early narrative that MOOCs would democratize higher education around the world. Another study by the researchers reassured business schools that MOOCs wouldn’t cannibalize their enrollments.

[ Full article available at Inside Higher Ed: ]

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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Industry News, MOOCs in the News


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