IHT&S addendum: Some answers to ‘who studies a MOOC?’

In my first post, I remarked upon some of the demographic trends I had observed when taking the CS101 course at Coursera, and expressed my hope that the MOOC providers would share some of their data to help the wider world understand the impact of MOOCs.

Dr. Chuck, the instructor on the Internet History, Technology & Security (IHT&S), took the initiative to circulate a demographic survey – and to share the results with the course participants. He encouraged us to reflect on the data and blog about it, so here we are: some answers to my first question, of ‘who studies a MOOC?’. Graphs have been drawn and interpreted by me, data gratefully courtesy of Dr. Chuck. The data comes with the following ‘health warning’ from Dr. Chuck: “Of course the caveat is that it is not scientific, it is partial, incomplete, your results may vary, void where prohibited, etc etc etc. It is anecdotal at best but certainly interesting.” We can’t tell how representative the sample is of the course as a whole, or assume that IHT&S can be generalised to other courses, but it does provide an interesting insight and raises some interesting questions.

Student demographics

Note: ‘Associate degree’ denotes 2 years undergraduate-level study; ‘Bachelors degree’ was described as 4 years of udnergraduate level study, based on the American model

  • Male students outnumber female by 2:1. Why? How much does gender of students depend on the course topic?
  • The course was fairly popular across the whole range of ages. Not sure why an under 18 category was not included. Modal category is ’25 to 34 years old’; interesting that this is the category following the one which university-level study would typically fall into. Does this indicate the importance of MOOCs as a next-stage in lifelong learning for the recent graduate? Is this in response to career pressures – MOOCs as a way to get ahead in the workplace?
  • Most respondents have a degree already – either undergraduate or masters, relatively few doctorates.

Students’ previous experiences of online learning

  • While the course is the first MOOC that most students have taken, more than half of the respondents have taken online courses before. Are MOOCs particularly attractive to students who have previously studied online? Do they have different expectations of the online MOOC environment to students who have not studied online before?

Reasons for taking the course

Note: Respondents could select multiple answers about their motivation for taking the course.

  • Givent that respondents could select multiple responses to their motivations for taking the course, it is more meaningful in a sense to focus on the categories which people did not select. In this case, it is notable that the lowest response categories – ‘Supplement other college/university classes courses’ and ‘Decide if I want to take college/university classes on the topic’ – are the ones which relate study to formal higher education structures.
  • Non-students outnumber those in formal education by approx 5:2.

Reuse and OER

  • While this pair of questions could suggest that most or all teachers taking the course would consider reusing the course materials in their own teaching, these responses should be treated with some caution, as more positive responses were gained to the reuse question (510) than respondents who indicated that they are actually teachers (451).

So: I’m intrigued by the gender differences, and the indication that MOOCs may be playing an important role in initiating lifelong learning in the years after formally leaving the academy. Of course, this is quite speculative as the data here is quite limited and only form one course. I’d be very interested to hear others’ take on the data – please do feel free to leave a comment here.



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4 responses to “IHT&S addendum: Some answers to ‘who studies a MOOC?’

  1. Gabriel Trautmann

    here are some results from the DB class (one of the first MOOC):

    Click to access db-class+survey.pdf



  2. Donna Stewart

    I would have liked to have seen some data collected on income levels of class participants.

  3. I am not at all surprised by the gender differences, we see the same in actual technology related classes.

    As for your second conclusive statement I guess it’s a problem of both motivation and time. Once you have a job going back to class, even if they’re night classes, might be a difficult step to take, then you have to consider the time it would take, especially in terms of transportation and of course money as well might be an issue.
    If you consider these aspects then taking a class on Coursera is really practical. I do think it might motivate people to take it to the next step and take actual classes, I know I want to.

    And lastly I wanted to comment on the online learning part of the survey. I can only give a personnal opinion but I am officially enrolled in an online course and I have found a big difference with Coursera in that I feel much more part of the community than in my official program, we might have a forum but it’s really, really slow and not very interesting to follow. Not to mention that the classes are only printed and I never see nor hear my teachers.
    Now though I can say that without my previous experience with online learning I’m not too sure I would have joined Coursera, the fact is, I knew I could keep deadlines by myself, I knew I could work by myself from a previous experience and it really motivated me to sign in.

  4. See also ‘MOOC student demographics’ from the Coursera course ‘Computational Investing, Part I’ which ran in Autumn 2012: https://augmentedtrader.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/mooc-student-demographics/

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