Survey: Students Like MOOCs, But Say They’re Not the Same as Classes


A study by published in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching reveals that although students believe MOOCs can help meet their lifelong learning aspirations, they feel online courses are not as good as traditional, for-credit options.

The study looked into student attitudes on MOOCs based on factors such as accessibility, content, reliability, learning, communication and learning outcomes.

The study by professors Andrew W. Cole and C. Erik Timmerman argues that student perspectives on MOOCs could help shape a better picture of the platform’s learning environment and move the discussion away from polarized assessment of their effectiveness compared to traditional learning ecosystems.

According to a qualitative, thematic analysis of the students’ responses, the study reveals that MOOC reliability is the biggest concern, with 8 in 10 participants making a statement that the offerings might not always be accurate given that the courses are the product of a single human perspective and not a course that’s peer reviewed. A student’s response explains the rationale:

“I would have a concern about legitimacy. It seems that there is little to no regulation and just about anyone could teach it. But at the same time that seems to be the great thing about it. A regular person can share their passions with others. The best and worst thing to me about these classes is that anyone can do it, much like Wikipedia.“

Researchers concluded that students consider MOOCs inferior to traditional courses. Also, several students’ responses show that course credit is a significant MOOC legitimacy factor. However, for many students, MOOCs offer a positive lifelong learning experience of personal and professional gains even in the absence of course credit.

“I believe one should gain organization and a sense of self-reliance from completing a MOOC course,” a student replied to “What do you think those who complete a MOOC should gain from the experience,” question.

In terms of accessibility, students had an overall positive view of MOOCs, particularly in terms of saving time and making courses available to a bigger audience.

Student responses also revealed concerns about content accuracy, saying how they must cross-reference course facts and use the MOOC content more as a starting point rather than a complete, accurate piece of knowledge.

Another prevalent perception among students is that MOOCs are mostly viewed as informational resources rather than teaching tools that facilitate learning. A respondent pointed out that an instructor with dozens of students could have trouble managing their needs:

“I would expect the instructor to be pretty overwhelmed with e-mails and questions from a much larger group of students. I think this would also take away from the instructor’s ability to keep the class on course. They would also need to be able to work with a more diverse group of students and understanding of their potential special needs.”

For many students, the format of MOOC is seen as an obstacle to instructor and student communication.  For other, there’s the presumption that MOOC classes are pre-made:

“[I would expect the instructor] not to perform pre-rehearsed lectures but instead be available to actually help students one-on-one, and to monitor areas where the class as a whole could use improvement and altering the course to match those needs.”

For the study’s purposes 84 undergraduate students were polled all from a Midwestern university in a variety of introductory undergraduate courses. The majority of the students were between 18 and 24 years of age. 8 out of 10 participants went to public schools and 17% had attended both private and public schools.