NEW TOOLS, SAME PROBLEMS: Do MOOCs really provide the eponymous openness they promise? In a study titled “Democratizing Education? Examining Access and Usage Patterns in Massive Open Online Courses," Harvard and MIT researchers questioned the assumption that open access signifies a level playing field. They analyzed completion data from 68 MOOCs offered by Harvard and MIT between 2012 and 2014 and found that course participants often lived in more affluent neighborhoods than the average US citizen. Students with more resources also showed a greater tendency to complete a given course, and the report suggests the divide is widest among adolescents and young adults.
Young students enrolling in courses lived, on average, in neighborhoods with a median income 38 percent higher than the American average. Teenagers with college-educated parents were twice as likely to complete their courses as teens without degree-holding parents.
Justin Reich, an author of the study and the Director of MIT's PK-12 Initiative, listed the three factors used to measure socioeconomic status: parental educational attainment, neighborhood average educational attainment, and neighborhood median income.
“MOOCs and other forms of online learning don’t yet live up to their promise to democratize education,” Reich told MIT News. “Closing this digital divide is exactly the kind of grand challenge that the world’s greatest universities should be tackling head on.”