Penn Research Study on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Because there were no robust, published data that describe who is taking Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), the University of Pennsylvania conducted an online survey of 34,799 students who have enrolled in at least one of the 32 MOOCs offered by Penn on the Coursera platform. The survey consisted of 18 questions relating to the respondent’s demographic information and their reasons for taking the online courses.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have taken higher education by storm. In just three short years, millions of students from around the globe have enrolled and taken thousands of courses now being offered by hundreds of universities. The disruptive potential of MOOCs are one more key component in the 'Open' Education & Training revolution' that is currently underway.

The following are some of the key findings of the study:

• Across all geographic regions, MOOC students have very high levels of educational attainment - 83.0% of the students had a post-secondary degree.
• In addition to being highly educated, the Coursera student population tends to be young, male, and employed, with a majority from developed countries.
• Over 40% of MOOC students are under 30 years of age, with less than 10% over 60.
• Significantly more males (56.9%) than females take MOOC courses.
• More than half (62.4%) of MOOC students report being employed full-time or self-employed, while only 13.4% report being unemployed or retired.
• In the U.S. nearly 20% of students are over 60 and 14.0% are retired; in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) only 1.6% of students are over 60 and just 1.2% are retired.
• Over two thirds (67.9%) of BRIC students are male compared to 48.1% male students in the U.S.
• There were two main reasons survey respondents cite for enrolling in a MOOC course: advancing in a current job and curiosity.

* For more detail, download a copy of the study "The MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why?"

More on MOOCs

Massive 'Open' Online Course (MOOC) web sites offer low cost, online courses aimed at nearly unlimited levels of participation by students or trainees around the globe. In addition to using traditional course materials (e.g. textbooks, videos), MOOCs also provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and instructors. MOOCs are a relatively recent development in distance education.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) emerged from the open educational resources (OER) movement. The term MOOC was first coined in 2008 by Dave Cormier of the University of Prince Edward Island and Senior Research Fellow Bryan Alexander of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education in Canada. You can read a lot more about the history of MOOCs on Wikipedia.

While MOOCs initially emerged and were used in academic settings, many private corporations around the world have begun to embrace them as a new, cost effective alternative for providing training to their employees.

The following are brief profiles of some of the more notable Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms that are currently available:

edX  is a non-profit collaborative organization and web portal offering interactive Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) in subjects such as law, history, science, engineering, business, social sciences, computer science, public health, and more.
Coursera  is an education company that has partnered with top universities and organizations around the world to offer free courses online for anyone to take. Coursera enables its partners to offer their courses to millions of students. It has emerged as the current leader of the pack, with over 10 million enrollments in Coursera from approximately 195 countries.
Udacity  is a for-profit education and training organization offering Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Their mission is to help reinvent education for the 21st century by bridging the gap between real-world skills, relevant education, and employment.
Udemy  is another for-profit education and raining company helping its students make career moves – whether it be getting a promotion, breaking into a new industry, starting a company, or furthering a passion.

Other MOOC platforms to check out include Academic Earth, FutureLearn, OER University, OpenCurriculum, and YouTube EDU.


In the healthcare arena, the MOOH - Massive Open Online Healthcare – is their counterpart to MOOCs. Like the MOOC, MOOHs could help revolutionize how education and training will be delivered in the future to thousands of healthcare providers and millions of patients – at their convenience. In other words, MOOHs could play a significant role in reducing healthcare costs, while also  increasing operational efficiency and effectiveness. Read more about this in The Atlantic.

To get a taste of what is currently being offered, check out some of these links to sites with Massive Open Online Healthcare (MOOH) courses: edX Medicine Courses, Coursera Medical Courses, Class Central Health& Medicine, Health Informatics MOOC.