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Surveying the Mooc Landscape

By Inside Higher Ed

April 3, 2015

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Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have released what their researchers describe as "one of the largest investigations of massive open online courses (MOOCs) to date," involving an analysis of 68 MOOCs, 1.7 million learners, 10 million hours of activity, and 1.1 billion logged events.

The study encompasses courses offered by Harvard and MIT between July 24, 2012, and Sept. 21, 2014, via edX, which the institutions co-founded.

HarvardX's Justin Reich says one purpose of the study was to provide university leaders insights to inform MOOC-related decision-making, especially in terms of measuring learner performance.

The MOOCs were clustered into four curricular content areas: computer science; humanities; social science; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

The researchers found the nine computer science MOOCs accounted for more than half of enrolled learners, while the STEM courses enrolled both the youngest learners and the most non-U.S. learners. Nearly 50 percent of humanities MOOC enrollees were female, while social science courses were most likely to draw learners holding bachelor's degrees.

Reich says Harvard and MIT's MOOCs also offer researchers a way to visualize the paths students follow, which could provide clues into what makes a MOOC successful. "Different kinds of courses are attempting to do different kinds of things and probably should be evaluated differently," he says.

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