In addition, 61% of MOOC users have reported educational benefits as a result of taking the course. And the career or educational benefits are slightly higher for those considered to be of lower socio-economic status.
The study, entitled: Who’s Benefiting from MOOCs and Why, was based on survey responses from 51,954 users who completed courses on the online platform Coursera up to September 1, 2014.
“I was surprised by the high level of benefits reported”
Just over half of the respondents initially took online courses to further their careers. Of these participants, 87% reported a career benefit of some description.
In addition, 33% of those who completed a MOOC for career purposes reported tangible benefits, including getting a pay rise or finding a new job.
“I was surprised by the high level of benefits reported,” Gayle Christensen, assistant vice provost for global affairs at the University of Washington and one of the study’s authors, told The PIE News.
“And that more disadvantaged groups reported similar and in some cases, even more benefits.”
The study found that those with a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to receive general career benefits, both tangible and intangible.
However, those from less developed countries or with a lower socioeconomic status were more likely to report tangible career benefits.
Students from non-OECD countries were slightly more likely to report seeing tangible career benefits – 36% compared with 32% from OECD countries.
And those with a lower socio-economic status were also more likely to see a tangible career benefit (39%) than those with a higher status (35%).
“MOOCs appear to be a particularly useful tool for professional development and skill building,” Christensen commented.
“MOOCs appear to be a particularly useful tool for professional development and skill building”
This may explain why fewer users are concerned with academic goals than with professional development, she suggested: 28% of respondents said they signed up to Coursera to further their academic prospects.
Of these users who participated in a MOOC course for educational purposes, 18% reported that they received credit for an academic programme or waived their prerequisites as a result.
In addition, 87% reported an intangible educational benefit, including deciding on a field of study as a result and gaining knowledge essential to the field of study.
“People from developing countries are more likely to be education seekers, as are people with lower socioeconomic status,” according to the authors.
Furthermore, just over 90% of those with a lower socioeconomic status reported educational benefits, in comparison with 86% of those with a higher socioeconomic status.
In spite of these results, the report acknowledges that “most people who start a MOOC don’t finish”, noting that just 4% of users go on to complete the course and receive a credential after watching at least one course lecture.
However, there have been more than 2.1 million course completions on Coursera between its inception in 2012 and April this year.
“These findings support some of the early hopes that MOOCs would provide a life-changing opportunity for those who are less advantaged and have limited access to education,” the report said.