Coursera Releases Findings on Impact of Online Courses

Posted By Eliana Osborn on October 28, 2015 at 9:21 am
Coursera Releases Findings on Impact of Online Courses

Coursera has asked the big question of more than 50,000 users—have they gotten any benefits from taking the organization’s classes?  As one of the largest providers of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, the company wanted to find out how the experience actually worked out in the real lives of people.

The data from their December 2014 study reveals a lot about why people sign up for MOOCs and the impacts of such learning. In conjunction with the University of Washington and University of Pennsylvania, Impact Revealed is the first study of its kind, conducted four years after Coursera first enrolled learners.

Two types of students were identified: career builders and education seekers, with 52% of respondents indicating that they enrolled not for college credit but to get job benefits.  A substantive majority of this group, 87%, report a positive impact on their career.

Daphne Koller, president and co-founder of Coursera, says that future courses offered on the site will reflect this business or career emphasis.  There are more than 1,000 courses in 35 languages available through Coursera.  To date, 2.5 million courses have been completed, and 15 million people are registered as learners.

Learner Outcomes in Open Online Courses 2015 asked about tangible or measurable benefits of Coursera courses, both for career- and education- focused students.  Tangible career benefits include getting a raise or promotion, or even starting a new job or business.  33% of students who enrolled for career purposes saw these kind of results.  On the academic side, tangible education benefits include earning credit toward a degree or prerequisites.  18% of education seekers got to this point.

Study participants must have completed at least one Coursera course; a 2013 study found that only 7% of those who enroll in a MOOC actually complete it.  Even so, Koller says the results were twice as good as they had hoped.

Career builders without degrees, from emerging economies, or with low economic status were more likely to see tangible job benefits.  Additionally, older, unemployed students saw greater benefits than younger learners.

Critics say that MOOC success is mostly for those who already hold a degree, not the large number of people who need greater access to educational opportunities.  But such positive responses from students about how they perceive course benefits show another side to the equation.  It isn’t just about getting people into classes or even making sure they finish.  Learners who take charge of their careers by trying to increase skills through online courses find satisfaction.  That’s something for content providers to consider moving forward.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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