Kolowich, S. (2012) Who takes MOOCs? Inside Higher Education, June 5

Article about a survey of 14,000 participants in Stanford’s Andrew Ng’s course on machine learning. It should be noted that the response rate is around 14% of all those that enrolled. The most common reason was that participants were curious about the topic. Relatively small numbers said they were doing it specifically for career advancement.

One important result though was that the vast majority of participants were from outside the USA (a similar phenomenon reported by Coursera and Udacity with almost three quarters of participants from abroad:

It may turn out that MOOCs from elite U.S. institutions might pose the greatest disruptive threat to foreign universities, says Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University. “It’s a bigger play, perhaps, in Asia than in the U.S.,” he said.

Maybe: it would be interesting to see what the demographic is for other MOOC’s such as Change11 that are not from US elite universities.


  1. While MOOCs are still being evaluated and even rejected by much of traditional higher ed, the quote by Paul LeBlanc should be a warning to all of us that in most disrupted industries, the “new kid on the block” is often a product with inferior quality that doesn’t fit the existing market. However, as the rest of the world continues to struggle to provide an education to their populations, MOOCs are continuing to gather a global following.

    MOOCs pose some compelling opportunities for governments, alumni-donors, and students to reduce the overall cost of an education. No surprise to all of us that increasing competition from global markets – yes, even in education – could pose a threat to conventional education in North America. Increasingly, adult students are pursuing online degrees from institutions in another country as barriers of geography are eliminated. America currently leads the MOOC evolution but that could easily shift as other countries recognize their potential to offer a cost-effective education.

    While the MOOC “experiment” continues to play out, the educational technologies and practices will continue to evolve. In the near future, as Learning Management Systems become more capable and scalable, the potential to provide an effective “learner-based” education will be there through MOOCs. In the same way that blended learning involving both classroom and online has been shown to be effective, MOOC courses from other institutions – included as part of the recognized curriculum, could be included as part of a university’s program.

    Who wouldn’t want to get a local college degree that included online courses from Harvard and Stanford as part of the program?

  2. Hi Tony. I don’t have exact figures for place of residence for participants to PLENK 2010 (1600 participants, organized by Stephen downes, George ave cormier and me), but here a google map produced by one of the participants that shows where people live, and you can see that it differs substantially with demographics from the Stanford’s course. http://bit.ly/NNo2Hq


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