Education Questions Worth Asking

MOOCs by the numbers: Where are we now?

Posted by: Thu-Huong Ha

Whatever your opinion of them, you can’t deny that MOOCs have come a long way in the last few years. To help put the massive online courses into some perspective, Alex Cusack, a contributing writer at, a blog that covers news about MOOCs (edited by Zachary Davis, a producer for HarvardX, a spin-off of edX) shared this handy infographic.

Cusack, a consultant in educational technology, regularly works with corporations and universities looking to design online education programs. And he’s a MOOC alum himself; his own experience with the courses (he has variously started, completed and dropped out of classes offered by Coursera, edX, Udacity and Udemy) has informed his take on the topic. As he told me over the phone, he became drawn to MOOCs when he realized, “I could attend Stanford-level classes and get objective content at basically free or little cost.” As a business major at Azusa Pacific University in southern California, that seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up.

So what did Cusack find surprising while researching the infographic? The fact that the biggest user base for MOOCs is males over the age 26 who already have bachelor’s degrees or, as he put it, an “already over-served market in terms of education accessibility.” But later data suggest that even though the percentage of students signing up for MOOCs in the world’s poorest countries is low, it still amounts to over 20,000 students. Cusack said he wasn’t able to include that detail in the infographic, which was published before the paper came out, but take a look at what he was able to find out:

What are MOOCS? Learn the basics of Massive Online Open Courses
Courtesy of:

Questions Worth Asking” is a new editorial series from TED in which we pose thorny questions to those with a thoughtful, relevant (or irrelevant but still interesting) take. This week we’re asking, “What’s next for MOOCs?” See also a Q&A with edX president, Anant Agarwal and read a conversation between Khan Academy’s Salman Khan and Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity.

Comments (21)

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  • Mila Vukojevic commented on Feb 8 2014

    Great intro to MOOCs, it offers some good stats of the overall MOOCs market. Can’t say that don’t surprised that the biggest user base for MOOCs is males over the age 26 who already have bachelor’s degrees.
    What I would’ve liked to see is what these different providers are doing to engage the student base, how do they differ in structuring their courses – the infographic is very high level with respect to that. For instance, the providers are listed as either non-profit or for profit, how many courses they offer, but where else do they differ? If I took the same course on edX and Coursera, how would my experience differ with each? Who’s pushing the curve on the UX? That would impact the very low completion rate.

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  • John Ebersole commented on Feb 7 2014

    MOOCs will gain in acceptance when two things occur – professional instructional design is incorporated into the lectures (which today are often little more than classroom presentations on steroids), AND attention is given to the assessment of learning outcomes. The fact that the presenter is a faculty member at MIT or Stanford is NOT sufficient to presume that the final exam has any validity or that anyone got anything from the experience. With these two actions, course completions should increase and proof of learning will be shown (or not). These are the largest areas of shortcoming. Neither is difficult to incorporate.

  • mourijn Bok commented on Feb 6 2014

    although the numbers for number of learners completing the course is low,we cant call it a drop out rate. Some people may have started for reasons other than course completion and may still be very satisfied with their results.

    • Aaron Koch commented on Feb 6 2014

      I’m one of those people. I’m a full time high school senior and I usually don’t have time to do most of the coursework, or even to watch all of the content of any given MOOC, but for me the satisfaction comes from experiencing more advanced material than available at my school.

  • Curtis Paul commented on Feb 6 2014

    They don’t work as well as we would dream them to…because people don’t learn this way….this is now how people learn….you can’t learn by reading a book and playing video games….you learn by doing and interacting with people directly.

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  • गौरव भल्ला commented on Feb 6 2014


    Just a questin: how are the employment status percentages represented? The first three categories alone (Fulltime, Partime and Unemployed) already add up to over 100%, so I was having trouble interpreting the numbers.

    - Gaurav.

  • Linda Harasim commented on Feb 4 2014

    I appreciate the numbers. Thanks to Mr. Cusack. The Coursera MOOC completion rates are presented here as 10%, a disaster. But still higher than edX completion rates of 4% and Udacity’s completion rates of 5%. Are you sure that Coursera is 10%?

    I have one question for clarification: what does it mean that the median response time for a question is 11 minutes. Who or what provides the “answer”? An Artificial Intelligence software or a real person? And what does a ‘response’ actually mean??

    Thank you.

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  • commented on Feb 4 2014

    Reblogged this on SCHOOL LIBRARY RESOURCES.

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  • Brijesh Mehta commented on Jan 30 2014

    Reblogged this on Revolution.

  • Sam Hang Tran commented on Jan 30 2014

    Reblogged this on now and then.

  • commented on Jan 29 2014

    Republicou isso em Eric Couto.

  • commented on Jan 29 2014

  • commented on Jan 29 2014

    Reblogged this on Philadelphia Virtual Academy and commented:
    Real-time information on MOOCs!