Still massive, but not so mysterious

We’ll have more MOOC veterans this time around (data updated 5/25/14; percentages rounded).

It stands to reason that, as time goes on and the number of people who have taken massively open online courses through Coursera has increased to more than 7 million, the composition and goals of the student body for any individual course would evolve. I’m certainly seeing that as I review data from my optional pre-course surveys in advance of launching Session 2 of “Understanding Media by Understanding Google” on May 26. For example, the chart above shows that the students this time will have more experience with MOOCs. The number of enrolled students who never before have taken a MOOC has dropped from about half to about a third, and a handful of respondents reported having taken more than 50 (I lumped everyone at or above 10 into a single group). It obviously follows that curiosity about the concept is shrinking in importance, but the table that follows shows some other interesting changes too. These numbers are those who said a given factor was “very” or “quite” important in their decision to enroll, the top two boxes out of 5 possible answers:

Relative importance, Session 1 vs. Session 2

How important was the following factor when you chose to enroll?Session 2: n=1,770 Session 1: n= 3,000
I'm curious about online courses24.3%40.4%
The subject is relevant to my academic field
I want to earn a credential for my CV / résumé29.9%43.5%
It's offered by a prestigious university33.0%42.0%
The class teaches ideas that will help my job / career62.0%69.6%
I want a different perspective on a subject I'm interested in69.4%75.1%
In particular, the number of people who say they are hoping to earn a credential that will help to position them better in the job marketplace is down quite a bit. That seems surprising in the context of my findings at the end of session 1, which I summarized in The Chronicle of Higher Education in December. Then, 73% of the 755 “graduates” who answered my post-course survey said they mostly or completely agreed with the statement, “I plan on listing my participation in a résumé, CV, or online profile.” But there’s plenty that hasn’t changed. The student body will still be worldwide: 160 countries are represented among the first 21,000 enrollees, compared to 193 countries from the 55,391 people who ever registered for the first session. The leading countries are still the U.S. (25%) and India (10% again), but China has surged into third place at 7%. And of course it’s still free, and there’s still room for you in the virtual classroom. You’ll even find some fellow students who already took the course and are re-upping, in part to see what new readings I’ve substituted to bring the topic up to date. What else will you find out by the end of six weeks? Come along and see.

About Owen Youngman

Professor Emeritus of Journalism and formerly Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Formerly senior vice president/strategy and development and director of interactive media, Chicago Tribune.