Friday, 4 April 2014

Who Participates in MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are elearning courses that do not charge a fee to take part (at least for the basic offering) and generally no restrictions are imposed on student numbers. They have become very popular among online learners. Ideally MOOCs are accessible by 'anyone anywhere in the world'. So who takes these online courses?

Some interesting findings are here based on a survey on Coursera platform users (who have participated in University of Pennsylvania courses). The courses that were considered here included humanities, business, math and science, social science and policy courses.The results are from a large scale survey of with 34,779 responses.
Who Takes MOOCs? (Christensen et al 2013, p10)
The study reports that there is "significantly more males (56.9%) than females take MOOC courses (p<0.001)". Carefully observing the table shows it clearly. In the US there is slightly more females taking part in the courses but everywhere else there is a huge gap between the genders. Especially in the case of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Another recent study (Ho et al 2014) on edX MOOCs have reported similar findings (for example the Circuits class only 13% females). Overall, in HarvardX and MITX courses only about 28% of participants were females.

Looking at the age group of females taking up MOOCs from the above table, it shows that in the developing countries it is mainly the young females who take part in courses. This could be due to them being more digitally literate and proficient in international languages than the older generation. But the trend is reversed in the case of US and OECD countries. What would explain this? Could this mean there is a widening gap between girls and boys in terms of digital literacy, computer skills, and/or access to the Internet in the developed world? Or could it be something else? The lack of awareness of such opportunities or their lack of interest in learning online? A recent post 'The girl with the thorn in her side – why aren’t there more girls in Computer Science?' claims that lot of female students in Computing in the UK are foreign students. There are lot of ourreach efforts especially for girls.

One could suggest that this is mainly due to Science, Technology and Maths subjects being offered by these institutions and even in the traditional enrollments females are under represented in these subjects or it could be females not responding to the questionnaire? But even then these are free courses so if someone is not sure whether it is really for you, may be MOOCs will be a good taster class or test drive. So why not try a MOOC?

At university of Reading we are offering a range of open online courses, including a course on Begin Programming: build your first mobile game (#FLMobiGame) a 7 Week MOOC. This is a fun but challenging course introducing basic programming concepts using Java and an Android mobile game. Each week you will learn a new concept in programming and will apply it to the basic game framework that we will provide you to create your very own personalized game. I created this video to show what we will be teaching each week. But you can change the background, images and may be create a space invader game or your puppy chasing rabbits!

When we trialed this course in October 2013 on FutureLearn BETA platform the 10,000 places in the course were filled within 24 hours. But only about 23.5% (of the people who responded to pre-course questionnaire) were female. At the moment we have over 37,000 enrollments on its second run. We are offering its third run October 2014 and if you are interested you can join here, remember it is FREE and all are welcome :)

Christensen, G., Steinmetz, A., Alcorn, B., Bennett, A., Woods, D., & Emanuel, E.J. (2013). The MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why?, Retrieved from

Ho, A. D., Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, D. T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., & Chuang, I. (2014). HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses (HarvardX and MITx Working Paper No. 1), Retrieved from

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