Massive Open Online Courses

Eric Nunez

Azusa Pacific University


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a new online phenomena. MOOCs aim to eliminate

educational disparities by providing individuals with equitable access to life long learning.

MOOCs are facilitated by experts in their respected fields and provide students with valuable

learning experiences. Eliminating traditional educational disparities, presents numerous

individual and societal benefits. However, MOOCs have yet to reach their intended population

because they do not provide all students with an optimal learning environment. Research in

respects to the MOOC phenomena is new and continues to develop.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are free online classes for unlimited student

participation that are facilitated by professors or experts in their fields. Czerniewicz, Deacon,

Fife, Small, and Walji (2015) state that, “MOOCs are a flexible and open form of self-directed,

online learning designed for mass participation” (p. 40). MOOCs offer valuable learning

experiences to students by providing students with the opportunity to view online lectures,

readings, assignments, and exams (Yang, Sinha, Adamson, & Rose, 2013). MOOCs are open to

access because they have few or no requirements for participation (Wulf, Blohm, Brenner, &

Leimeister, 2014). For example, students do not have to: attend the sponsoring schools, complete

prerequisites, pay for participation. Also, learning is structured because the development of

pedagogy follows predetermined learning objectives (Wulf et al., 2014). Furthermore, learning

(materials, socializing, testing, teaching, etc.) is digital because courses are conducted online

(Wulf et al., 2014). Therefore, providing people with access to a quality education is more

efficient than traditional “bricks and mortar” institutions.

The aim of MOOCs is to provide underprivileged people with free access to elite

education. Ideally, MOOCs help individuals and society acquire skills necessary for high quality

jobs. However, according to Christensen, Steinmetz, Alcorn, Bennett, Woods, and Emanuel

(2015) students that participate in MOOCs tend to be young, male, highly educated, employed,

and reside in developed countries. It is evident that students that participate in MOOCs are

educationally privileged and therefore, to some extent do not eliminate barriers for all people to

receive a quality education. Christensen et al. (2015) states that, “There are two main reasons

survey respondents cite for enrolling in a MOOC course: advancing in a current job and

curiosity” (p. 5). The respected research suggests that MOOCs are not eliminating educational

disparities because they are not reaching less educated people. An important flaw that impedes

MOOCs from providing equitable access to lifelong learning is that they lack a social

environment that promotes sustained student participation and learning (Yang et al., 2013).

Massive Open Online Classes create challenges for students because they do not promote

social interactions in a massive online setting. Yang et al. (2013) states that, “As massive

communities of strangers that lack shared practices that would enable them to form supportive

bonds of interaction, these communities grow in an unruly manner” (p. 1). MOOCs are opening

online overnight and as groups of student join them they are becoming overwhelmed by the

amount of communication already covered. The lack of social interactions in a massive online

setting affects student motivation and therefore, is a factor for significant student dropouts.

Research by Jordan (2014) show that, “The majority of courses have been found to have

completion rates of less than 10% of those who enroll, with a median average of 6.5%” (p. 150).

MOOCs are a new online phenomena and they fail to provide students with a supportive

community structure found in traditional education. Research is limited in respects to why

students drop MOOCs and therefore, we need to continue researching methods for developing

social engagement in massive online communities.

Massive Open Online Courses are a new phenomena. The aim is teach underprivileged

individuals skills that they may apply in important jobs by providing equitable access to elite

education. However, the inability for MOOCs to provide social interactions in a massive online

environment is perpetuating educational disparities. As educators, it is our responsibility to

continue research and provide our students equitable access to life long learning.


Christensen, G., Steinmentz, A., Alcorn, B., Bennet, A., Woods, D., & Emanuel, E. (2015). The

MOOC Phenomenon: Who Takes Massive Open Online Courses and Why? Office of the

Provost, University of Pennsylvania,, 1-14. Retrieved from

Czerniewicz, L., Deacon, A., Fife, M., Small, J., & Walji, S. (2015). Massive open online

courses. Universities South Africa, 40-46. Retrieved from



Jordan, K. (2014). Initial Trends in Enrolment and Completion of Massive Open Online Courses.

The International Review of Research In Open and Distance Learning, 15(1), 133-160.

Retrieved from

Wulf, J., Blohm, I., Brenner, W., & Leimeister, J. M. (2014, February 12). Massive Open Online

Courses. Business & Information Systems Engineering. Retrieved from

Yang, D., Sinha, T., Adamson, D., & Rose, C. P. (2013). “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out”:

Anticipating student dropouts in Massive Open Online Courses. 1 Language Technologies

Institute, School of Computer Science, 1-8. Retrieved from