May 18, 2022

Who Are They? New Study Reports on MOOC Participants

From the

When prominent universities began giving free access to courses online, some proponents hailed it as a way to open education to the vastly underprivileged in countries around the world.

But a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published Wednesday by the journal Nature says that isn’t what has happened.

Instead, the researchers found, a vast majority of students enrolled in “Massive Open Online Courses” – commonly known as MOOCs – already hold college degrees and are taking the courses primarily to advance in their jobs.

“MOOCs are not providing this revolutionary access that some have claimed,” said Gayle Christensen, executive director for global initiatives at Penn.

Much More in the Full Text Article

More From COHE:

The paper is based on a survey of 34,779 students worldwide who took 24 courses offered by Penn professors on the Coursera platform. The findings—among the first from outside researchers, rather than MOOC providers—reinforce the truism that most people who take MOOCs are already well educated.

The Penn researchers sent the survey to students who had registered for a MOOC and viewed at least one video lecture. More than 80 percent of the respondents had a two- or four-year degree, and 44 percent had some graduate education.

Direct to Full Text Paper: The MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why? (via SSRN)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.