A new report from the Technology & Social Change Group (TASCHA) within the University of Washington Information School argues that online courses have the ability to increase quality education and career training across the globe.
While Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are available to the public for free, the report finds that very few people in developing countries are actually accessing them. As a result, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has partnered with CourseTalk, the largest source of MOOC reviews, in an effort to find the best way to provide online education to students around the world to help them improve their careers.
The report, "The Advancing MOOCs for Development Initiative," holds three goals, which include the collection of data concerning MOOCs in developing countries in order to better understand how they could potentially help to increase employment opportunities; to raise awareness of the benefits of MOOCs for policy makers, employers, and the general public; and to discover ways to bump enrollment in MOOCs and help to raise completion rates for online courses.
Research pertaining to MOOC usage currently suggests that the online courses hold a greater benefit for highly educated, wealthy males. However, there is not yet much research about MOOCs in developing countries, which is what the report hopes to help cover.
In order to better understand what motivates MOOC users and determine the advantages and disadvantages of using MOOCs to increase workplace skills, the report collected data from MOOC users and non-users at local academic and nonprofit institutions in Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa. In addition, interviews from government agencies and employers were observed, and focus groups were conducted, to examine MOOC users from all three countries.
Key findings from the report suggest that despite what previous research would suggest, low and middle-income populations make up the majority of MOOC users, totaling 80%. In addition, over 80% of MOOC participants have basic or intermediate level ICT skills, despite the widely-held belief that those who take part in MOOCs have higher skill levels.
In total, 49% of MOOC users were found to receive certification upon completion of courses, with an additional 30% completing the course. Both of these figures are much higher than the single-digit rates shown elsewhere. Also, women were found to be more likely to complete MOOCs or obtain a certificate than men.
Of all MOOC users, the main motivations were found to be the need for specific job skills at 61%, preparing for furthering education at 39%, and obtaining professional certification at 37%.
Non-users cited a number of reasons for not participating in MOOCs. At 50%, not having enough time came in far above the rest, with lack of computer access at 4% and a lack of skills at 2% coming in second and third places.
The authors suggest that the three countries observed look to their own education ministries or special education authorities in order to promote specific agendas. In addition, they say that MOOCs should be integrated into training programs already in existence and that government agencies should join forces with educational institutions and libraries in order to promote MOOC awareness strategies beginning in primary and secondary school settings.