Looking beyond the basic demographics of MOOC learners is key…

magnifying_glass_finger_printI don’t know if I am going to be able to blog through all of the interview videos shared by Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill from the 2013 MOOC Research Initiative Conference back in December… but I am going to try. The video below showcases Phil’s interview with Tawanna Dillahunt. Her background on her website indicates that she is a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. Her research interests are in the areas of human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, social computing, and identifying needs and opportunities to further explore how theories from the social sciences can be used to design technologies that have a positive impact on group and individual behavior. I do hope that her research will have such an impact on the fields of eLearning, social media, mobile computing, etc. We need it and it is innovators like Tawanna can help make our future even brighter.

The video discusses her grant that she received from the MOOC Research Initiative. She is interested in learning how MOOC learners—specifically those whom can’t afford a formal education—are using these MOOCs for their economic mobility? As we have heard over the last few years, MOOCs have been thought of as a panacea for all those whom cannot afford a formal education. Plus MOOCs can educate those groups on a massive scale.

I personally believe that “in theory” this is a possibility! Although, is this where we are today? I don’t know if the future is here yet. I have seen discussions that those mostly attending MOOCs currently are those whom already have a formal education and wish to learn more. Tawanna shared that the previous research has shown that over 79% of MOOC participants have higher education degrees. I personally have participated in MOOCs mostly for networking, developing my PLN, and pursing my own personal learning interests. None of these have been for any sort of credit or certification. Just some fun informal learning (perhaps the best kind 🙂 ) So I am apart of that 79%.

Last week I blogged about what Keith Devlin had to say about how he feels that MOOCs won’t make education much cheaper, but that they could make education much better. Yes. They are not quite there yet, but the potential is there for adding value to the current higher education offerings in terms of student learning. Will MOOCs in the future help those who cannot afford a formal education? I do hope so, but I just don’t know if that is the future.

In an effort to see if this is the future, Part 1 of Tawanna’s research grant is to see if she can understand some MOOC demographics. Through the use of a survey, Tawanna is comparing two groups of students.

  • Those who state that they cannot afford a formal education
  • Those who state that they can  afford a formal education (I assume this also takes into consideration those who already have it as well)

The results showed that 10% of her respondents stated that they cannot afford a formal education… about 650 students. From this target group she is also finding that these students actually have less than a bachelor’s degree.

Phil then asks Tawanna, So what are the needs of these students? How will MOOCs affect these students? What can MOOCs do to enable these students to be more successful? Part 2 of her research hopes to address just that. The plan is to interview these students and see if the MOOC effected their educational mobility and or what could have been done in the MOOC to make sure that would have been the case.

She is interested in learning from this group about what courses they would like to see and trying to see what they ended up doing with the free education. What are the tangible results that they are showing employers? What are they putting on their resumes? Are they going out and creating portfolios? Were they able to find a job based on what they learned in a MOOC?

Looking beyond the basic demographics MOOC learners is key to understanding the future of MOOCs. Just as the image in the top right attempts to show. We need to spend time actually talking with our students and seeing if the MOOC is working as intended and how it could serve them better. I look forward to seeing what she and others discover.


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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One Response to Looking beyond the basic demographics of MOOC learners is key…

  1. Pingback: Can we determining best practices for learning in different types of MOOCs, e.g., xMOOCs and cMOOCs? | coffeeanDesign

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