There’s lots of discussion around MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) these days. A recent article in the Scientific American claims that there are a number of reasons why MOOCs have become so popular. The first is that brick and mortar campuses are unlikely to keep up with the demand for higher education. It is estimated that there is a need to construct more than four new 30,000-student universities per week to accommodate the children who will reach enrolment age by 2025. MOOCs are considered to expand the reach of existing campuses. There is also increasing demand from mature learners who enter higher education to further their education and career prospects. Another major factor is the sky rocketing cost of tuition fees and student debt, particularly in the US, where student loans are estimated to exceed US $1 trillion.
So, who is using MOOCs? Coursera, the largest of three companies offering MOOCs has 2.9 million registered users from more than 220 countries. Students from the US are the highest users, followed by India. The Guardian reported this week that early analysis of MOOC students studying at the University of Edinburgh has found that most of them are mature learners who already hold one or two degrees. This is in line with other analysis of MOOC data which shows that the primary use of MOOCs has been adults seeking professional development or lifelong learning. It’s also in line with our own initial research which suggests that adult learners are actively seeking new ways of learning and engaging in higher education.