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MOOCs To Date: Minuscule not Massive, and NOT Broadening Opportunity

December 21, 2015

As one who believes that access to computers is a social justice issue and on-line learning might provide equity of opportunity, I was dismayed to read two recent articles on the state of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs.

Earlier this month, Sindya N. Bhanoo, a writer for the NYTimes, reported on a study by John D. Hansen,  a doctoral student at Harvard who found that the majority of those taking advantage of Harvard’s MOOC offerings came from affluent neighborhoods, which was not the target audience.

“Just because it is free and available online, it does not necessarily mean that the chief beneficiaries or users are going to be the less advantaged,” Mr. Hansen said.

Last week the Wall Street Journal reported on the experience Georgia Tech is having with its MOOCs, and they are finding that students are taking longer to complete the on-line programs and the demographic of those taking the courses is not what Georgia Tech anticipated:

Nearly 80% of students in the online program are from the U.S., with many already employed. The campus-based program, meanwhile, overwhelmingly attracts international students who move to Atlanta and enroll full-time.

But like the campus version, the online degree still skews heavily male and has a small share of under represented minorities. Mr. Isbell said Georgia Tech is becoming more “intentional” about attracting women to help diversify the talent pipeline.

While MOOCs are providing a low-cost alternative means of attaining a degree, they are not graduating as many students as hoped for nor are they attracting  wider demographic, which was another anticipated result.

The Wall Street Journal headline for it’s article is “Online Degree Hits Learning Curve”. Time will tell whether it is hitting a wall.

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