Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Report on 6 MOOCs turns up 10 surprises

Great report from the University of Edinburgh on their six
2013 Coursera MOOCs. The report has good data, tries to separate out active
learners from window shoppers and not short on surprises. It’s a rich resource
and a follow up report is promised. Well done Edinburgh – this is in the true
spirit of HE – open, transparent and looking to innovate and improve.

Six courses

to Philosophy: 98,129

Thinking: 75,884

& Digital Cultures: 42,844


AI Planning:

Equine Nutrition: 23,332

Ten surprises

Rather than
summarise the report, I’ve plucked out the Top Ten surprises, that point
towards the future development of MOOCs:

1. Large no
of enrolments (309,628)

2. Age

3. Huge subject-sensitive
gender range (13-87%)

4. Low no. students/
in teaching & education (36.8%)

5. Learners from
176 countries (61% outside US/UK)

6. Close to
zero from China

7. Main
driver – learning, low interest in certification

8. Sparse
use of Forums

9. Big range
on SoA across courses (4-44%)

10. Expectations – met more or completely (77%)

1. Large no of enrolments (309,628)

Good numbers but the report wisely points towards a large
number of ‘window shoppers’. This is a consequence of being early and they expect
numbers to fall with a change towards more serious and sustainable ‘learners’
in the future. However, it points towards massive, unmet demand for for MOOCs.

2. Age spread

Given the
level of the courses, it is clear that a wide range of ages want MOOCs. The
standard ’18 year-old undergraduate’ profile is blown out of the water with
MOOCs. Only 1 in 5 fit this 18-24 model. 

3. Huge subject-sensitive gender range

One of the great ‘elephant in the room’ issues in HE is the
gender imbalance. Different courses have incredible imbalances. This is also
reflected in MOOCs. It would be interesting to collate gender data against
preferred use of Forums and social media.

4. Less than third
students or people in teaching and education.
Does this show that MOOC
demand does not fit the traditional ‘undergraduate model’? The data here is
skewed by the ‘E-learning and Digital Cultures’ course where 51% were in teaching
and learning. When you strip this out, MOOCs are certainly open (in spirit) and
therefore attract diverse audiences.

5. Learners from 176 countries (61% outside

39% from US and UK, but that’s where it was publicised. If
anything the real surprise is that the other 61% is from the rest of the world.
The broad global pull for MOOCs is clear.

6. Close to zero
across courses from China.
This casts doubt about MOOCs attracting that
lucrative foreign student market.

7. Main driver – learning, low interest in

This is a
lesson that many MOOC commentators are learning, that MOOCs reflect, not demand
for certification but demand for ‘learning’ with only around a third interested
in certification or career. . That’s not to say that certification is not
important, it’s just less important than educators think. Curiosity about
online education and MOOCs, however, is the temporary pollutant in the data.

8. Low Forum
This confirms my view that Forums are useful but overegged.
On technical courses, I’ve experienced very low use of Forums and discussions,
mostly around alleged mistakes by the academics in definitions and the maths.
Even in highly ‘discursive’ courses, like Philosophy and the ‘curated’
E-learning course the numbers are relatively small. One of the most interesting
data sets is that on the use of forums and social media. “The respondents of
the Exit survey were more independent than social learners, with high
self-reported time spent on videos and quizzes and less on online social
activities.” It is assumed, by social constructivists, that people are desperate
for this type of interaction and social learning experience, but many don’t
seem to participate.

9. Big range on SoA across courses (4-44%)

Surprised that the E-learning course was so low but, having
taken this course, I think it raises some interesting questions about quality
and structure. I, and others, found the content a little weak and, although
it’s a subject I’m passionate about, it didn’t do it for me.

10. Expectations – met more or completely

These figures are extremely promising with 77% feeling very
good about their experience and 98% seeing MOOCs as having to some extent,
exceeded or completely met expectations. Given that this was the first
experiment with MOOCs, I’m impressed.


Impressive report, full of fascinating facts and figures. If
I were looking at MOOCs, I’d pour over this data carefully. That, combined with
the useful information on resources expended by the University, is an invaluable business planning tool. In
my next post, I’ll look at the way Edinburgh planned and coped with governance
on this initiative - equally fascinating.

Download University of Edinburgh report here.

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