MOOCs are increasingly familiar – I reckon most people recognise the acronym for massive open online courses – but they still attract controversy. For those who still have an open mind on the issue, there’s a nice summary of the pros and cons here. Either way, though, MOOCs are an important newish arrival on the scene, and they are changing the context for adult learners, including older adult learners.
A number of studies have shown that older adults are a significant proportion of those who follow MOOCs. One early analysis of enrolments on MOOCs offered through the UK FutureLearn consortium found that 26% were aged 56 or over; it also found that 58% were women. Now a recent study has looked at the ages of people enrolling on ten courses offered by one British university through FutureLearn.
In seven of the ten courses, learners aged under 36 were a minority; the three exceptions were two courses in English and one on programming. In two courses, over one third of learners were aged 56 or over: this older group comprised 36.7% of learners enrolled on Our changing climate: Past, present and future and 39.5% on Heart health: A beginner’s guide to cardiovascular diseases.
Over one-eighth of the learners on both courses were aged 66 or over. By contrast, hardly any older learners were enrolled on A beginner’s guide to writing in English for university study – English. The university offered two MOOCs with this title; 0.6% of students on the the more basic MOOC were aged 66+, and 1.5% on the more advanced MOOC. And a mere 0.5% of learners on Managing people: Engaging your workforce were in this age group.
It would, of course, be interesting to know much more about these older MOOC learners. For example, are older learners more likely to complete the course than younger ones? How do different learners use what they have learned through a MOOC? And who gets the most out of them? Research in MOOCs is exploding, and it is important that some of it at least is sensitive to older learners’ participation.
The authors of this particular study suggest that MOOCs could play a useful role in health and well-being by helping reduce isolation among older adults. This means engaging them as learners by promoting MOOCs in places that attract seniors, as well as developing new MOOCs in topics that are likely to interest seniors. More radically, they also recommend giving seniors ‘the opportunity to co-create community courses by providing an open space for discussions and collaborations’.