Youngsters, retirees, and other non-traditional student populations have embraced massive open online courses (MOOCs), according to a survey from researchers at Duke University. The team studied the free, open-access digital courses offered by Duke using the Coursera platform, and analyzed pre-course surveys administered to participants. Students reported taking MOOCs in topics not taught in their schools and taking MOOCs to explore different disciplines to help weigh academic and career choices. Participants older than 65 said they were taking MOOCs to pursue lifelong learning, to keep their minds active, and to mentor younger students in their own professional field.
In another sign that MOOCs are democratizing learning, students with limited access to higher education said they chose MOOCs because they were available.
"The idea was trying to get a better handle on individuals who were underserved, because so much of the popular press has focused on highly educated, white [for the most part], upper middle class folks taking Coursera courses," says lead study researcher Lorrie Schmid. "We wanted to get a sense of these other groups and how they might be approaching, in similar or different ways, these types of classes. The theme that was most pronounced was that Coursera classes were supplementing or enhancing their education that they were getting from either K-12 or higher education formal courses."
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