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Science Magazine

Dec 2015

Democratizing education?: Examining access and usage patterns in massive open online courses

John D. Hansen, Justin Reich

Abstract

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are often characterized as remedies to educational disparities related to social class. Using data from 68 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT between 2012 and 2014, we found that course participants from the United States tended to live in more-affluent and better-educated neighborhoods than the average U.S. resident. Among those who did register for courses, students with greater socioeconomic resources were more likely to earn a certificate. Furthermore, these differences in MOOC access and completion were larger for adolescents and young adults, the traditional ages where people find on-ramps into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) coursework and careers. Our findings raise concerns that MOOCs and similar approaches to online learning can exacerbate rather than reduce disparities in educational outcomes related to socioeconomic status.

Citations

Hansen, J.D.* & Reich, J. (2015). Democratizing education?: Examining access and usage patterns in massive open online courses. Science, 350(6265),1245-1248.

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