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U of Edinburgh releases first ever MOOC data

Despite the buzz around Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), data about them is scarce, limiting the ability to judge how the courses will fit into the higher education landscape—and particularly whether they will be creditworthy and eventually profitable.

"There were gaps" in the participating nationalities, with zero activity from China

Hoping to counter this, the University of Edinburgh has compiled the most comprehensive data to date on the sector, revealing the study choices, motivations and nationality of participants in its six Coursera-backed MOOCs.

A pre-launch survey sent to 217,512 email accounts a week before the course began yielded 45,182 responses (a rate of 21%) and revealed that some 200 countries were represented in the learner cohort, the majority of students coming from the US, UK, Spain and Brazil. Researchers said “there were gaps” in the participating nationalities, however, with zero activity from China for example.

“Gathering many more learners from non-US/UK/Europe sources is not a simple goal”

“This suggests that reaching widely with MOOCs to gather many more learners from non-US/UK/Europe sources is not an unreasonable goal, but also not a simple goal,” the report states.

Thirty-three per cent of respondents were between 25-35 years old and were mostly in the “teaching and education” field or students at university. 70% reported having completed an academic degree, a larger percentage than organisers expected.

An Exit survey gathering 15,351 responses showed that 45% of respondents said the course completely met their expectations while 32% said it exceeded them. Organisers added that about 46-81% of its 305,000 enrolled learners participated in the courses at any one time – a “complete vindication of our decision to participate in the early days of MOOCs”.

How to monetise MOOCs has topped debates around MOOCs as many universities have started charging for completition certificates. Edinburgh said that offering certificates for a modest fee was in the original plans but not pursued because the process for doing it was still evolving within Coursera at the time.

Ultimately, 34,850 Statements of Accomplishments were distributed to 12% of total enrolment across all six courses.

70% reported having completed an academic degree, a larger percentage than organisers expected

“Both Entry and Exit surveys asked respondents for their reasons for enrolling, of which the main options chosen were to learn new subject matter and find out about MOOCs/online learning. Gaining a certificate or career enhancement were less significant but more localised to specific MOOCs,” the report says.

The University of Edinburgh was the first non-US university to partner with platform provider Coursera in early 2012. The six courses, lasting either five or seven weeks, were launched January 2013 offering courses such as Introduction to Philosophy, Elearning and Digital Cultures and Critical Thinking in Global Challenges.

The lack of MOOC data has caught the eye of the private sector resulting in the launch of the MOOC Research Initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project aims to “fill this research gap by evaluating MOOCs and how they impact teaching, learning, and education in general.”

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