On Friday, The Chronicle of Higher Education helpfully distilled some key metrics recently released by edX on their first sixteen MOOCs (8 Things You Should Know About MOOCs).
We thought our community might be interested in how the Saylor Academy stacks up (favorably, we believe). We will look specifically at points 1-4; because of our self-paced, registration-optional model and other factors, points 5-8 are either prohibitively difficult to measure or not relevant.
Keep in mind that our data are presented for the sake of interest — we are comparing apples and oranges here, in that our data differs from edX’s data in numbers, time, subject areas, enrollment model, survey response bias, and so forth. We have not really accounted for any of that. We talk about where our data comes from further below.
Note: click on any image below for a larger version.
1. The overwhelming majority of MOOC students are male
Overall, just 24% of participants in the edX MOOCs are female. The Saylor Academy, while still apparently a majority-male student community, is much closer to parity: 44.8% of our students identify as female; another 2% identify as transgender.
2. MOOCs attract students who already have college degrees
The edX data shows a clear majority of students who hold a Bachelor’s degree or higher; the numbers appear to be close to two-thirds. In contrast, while the first and second modes of our dataset are undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively, just 55% of our students have a Bachelor’s or higher. We have three charts here: the pie chart is just a simple binary comparison, the nine-category chart directly represents our dataset, and the six-category chart is given to match the categories used in the Chronicle piece.
A common criticism of MOOCs is that they attract degreed students, with the implication that those students are merely dabbling in online learning. It has become increasingly clear, however, that degree-holders at all levels are returning to both formal and informal education in order to acquire necessary skills or facilitate career changes.
3. The median age of MOOC participants is 24
While our data have a similarly-shaped curve to the edX data, our typical age range appears to skew somewhat higher. Looking at the given charts in the Chronicle piece, there seem to be about 120,500 students in the 25-34 age range compared to about 132,000 students in the 19-24 age range. In contrast, we have 25% more students in the 25-34 age range than in the 19-24 range.
Our slightly older audience may reflect the appeal of our courses to the “new” traditional student who is older, experienced in the job market, and unlikely to be (or to have been) a residential student at a four-year university.
4. One-third of MOOC participants are from North America
Very nearly one-half of our students are from the United States, and approximately 55% from the three biggest North American contributors of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Nevertheless, our community is broadly international, with representatives from virtually every country and territory in the world — and that with our courses and learning materials available only in English. (A third of our registered students do not speak English as their first language.)
With our credit pathways programs, a significant portion of our audience is necessarily North American or has access to the U.S. and Canadian university systems. That said, our credit programs and our certificates more generally have broad appeal.
Where does the Saylor Academy data come from?
For (1) above, our data comes from a late-2013 voluntary survey of our community members, conducted in cooperation with the OER Research Hub. For (2), (3), and (4), the data comes from demographics questions we instituted for students who register with our site. Because the questionnaire is new and is given only to those who have logged in recently, we consider these demographics to be a fair representation of our most active students. For (4) only, the data for the chart is drawn from website analytics representing sessions of returning visitors only for the past calendar year; the numbers differ slightly from those of the demographics questionnaire but both sets of data generally comport well.
Your questions and thoughts are welcome!