Do MOOCs attract older learners?

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Particularly popular with older learners

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’.





2 thoughts on “Do MOOCs attract older learners?

  1. As an 86 year old I certainly come in this category of an older citizen who has engaged in a MOOC. I had been interested in the idea but had not been able to choose any subject and then I saw one on teaching a second language. This seemed promising as I was doing a course of helping a U3A group wanting to be able to converse with French people when they visited France. Most had done French at school, perhaps had school certificates, but found themselves unable to speak or understand the French people they met in France. Perhaps this course might give me some ideas.
    The MOOC has an attraction for the retired because it demands no financial cost and it is completely within their control over when and where they choose to study and also they are not making demands on resources. It allows the chance to opt out without any sense of failure .It is also a challenge and a way of keeping oneself mentally alert.
    The course was interesting and it was good to see present day academics at work even if only on the internet. The participants came from all corners of the world. The Forum gave a glimpse of their problems and successes. I soon found that the main stress on the course was ‘English teaching as a foreign language. Still the problem of teaching a foreign language was essentially the same no matter what language even though each language had its special difficult area.
    The Forum feature was interesting. There was a demand for a comment on each section of the course. These varied. .”Absolutely wonderful. I wait impatiently for the rest of the course” ” I’ve been doing this for the last 15 years”.
    I found the course interesting but it didn’t revolutionise my course. What it did was to show the possibilities of the internet as an economical way to learn. It tempted me to try do what I was asking my group to do, to learn to speak another language. I found that the BBC had a very interesting course on Spanish and on youtube there were many competing free language courses on Spanish. I learnt outside the course on the strong stress on whole sentence learning rather than emphasis on grammar. The BBC took this approach while another course took a rather grammatical approach.and I combined the two which I found helpful.
    Do I think that the MOOC was a waste of time? No. Will I go back and do another.? Perhaps!.
    My language learning is occupying me at the moment .

    • Reading about your experience with the MOOC is very helpful as I am looking into different resources to encourage my mother to become engage in some online courses. Thank you for sharing because I had never heard of these types of courses until reading about it in a previous blog and am now going to look into an MOOC not only for my mother but for myself upon completion of my graduate coursework. I am a firm believer in lifelong learning and I think an MOOC will help me with continue learning at my own pace when I want to.

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