Survey of Outcomes Reported by Learners in Open Online Courses Reveals Widespread Career and Educational Impact

Coursera and Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Washington Release an Inaugural Survey of 52,000 Learners Sampled From Millions on Coursera.

Coursera, in partnership with researchers at University of Pennsylvania and University of Washington, has released the results of a first ever survey revealing the self-reported outcomes for learners on Coursera, the largest open online education platform with 15 million registered learners worldwide. The survey aimed to understand the motivations and results for people who complete massive open online courses (better known as MOOCs). The survey comes nearly four years after many of the world’s top universities began joining Coursera and other platforms to offer courses online available to learners of all means, inspiring enrollments of more than 100,000 people in a single course.

The survey of learner outcomes on Coursera, published in full this week in Harvard Business Review, reveals that the vast majority of learners who complete open online courses are reporting both career advancement (72%) and educational advancement (61%). These reported outcomes were even greater among learners who cited career or educational advancement, respectively, as their primary motivation for enrolling in online courses. Moreover, learners from lower socioeconomic status (SES), from emerging economies, and those without a bachelor’s degree were more likely to report benefits, indicating that open online education can empower people of all backgrounds and especially those at a disadvantage.

The survey was divided into two core groups of learners categorized by their primary motivations: “career builders” and “education seekers.”

The Career Builders

  • 52% of learners identified as career builders, citing career advancement as their primary reason for taking online courses.
  • 87% of career builders reported benefits such as improving candidacy for a new position or becoming better equipped for a current job.
  • 34% of career builders reported tangible benefits like receiving a pay raise, a promotion, a new job or starting a new business.
  • Career builders were more likely to report benefits if they had no bachelor’s degree or were from lower SES brackets or emerging economies.
  • Those who chose to earn a Course Certificate were more likely to report tangible career benefits (34% versus 25%), indicating the growing value of online education credentials.

The Education Seekers

  • 28% of learners identified as education seekers, citing educational advancement as their primary reason for taking online courses.
  • 88% of education seekers reported benefits like building knowledge in their current field of study, deciding on a new field, refreshing concepts before going back to school, or even improving college admissions.
  • 18% reported tangible benefits like receiving credit or fulfilling prerequisites towards an academic degree.
  • As with career builders, education seekers benefitting the most were from lower SES brackets and emerging economies.

“This data suggests that by completing online courses, the least well-off students can secure important career and educational benefits,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, Vice Provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, a researcher on the study. “The big challenge is to ensure more disadvantaged learners and more learners in developing countries can have the computers and internet access needed to fully utilize these online courses for career growth and academic pursuits.”

“While the majority of people completing MOOCs remain those from OECD countries and those with college degrees, it is very encouraging that learners with less advantages are more likely to report career and educational benefits from MOOCs,” said Gayle Christensen, Assistant Vice Provost at the University of Washington, another researcher on the study.

This survey was completed in December 2014 targeting any learner who was three or more months past completing at least one Coursera course. Researchers received 51,954 survey responses from learners in 212 countries and territories. The male/female breakdown was 59/41, the most common age range was 26-35, and 57.6% designated full time employment. The top countries represented were the United States, China, India and Brazil.

“We founded Coursera nearly four years ago with a vision toward transforming lives by expanding access to the world’s best education,” said Daphne Koller, Co-Founder and President of Coursera. “With this survey, we are beginning to see the positive impact open online learning already has had on so many people around the globe, and noticeably for those seeking a boost for their careers. What’s more, tangible benefits are reported at an even higher rate among learners from emerging economies, in lower SES brackets and from other non-traditional education backgrounds, signaling that MOOCs are able to help those with great need.”

For more information about the survey, methodology or results, visit Coursera and Harvard Business Review.

About Coursera
Take online classes and Specializations from 120+ top universities and educational organizations. Coursera partners with schools like Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Edinburgh, Peking University, and others to offer courses in dozens of topics, from computer science to teaching and beyond. Whether you are pursuing a passion or looking to advance your career, Coursera provides open online education for everyone.

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