Get the complete book Thinking Strategically about MOOCs: The Role of Massive Open Online Courses in the College and University at Amazon in print or kindle version.
While demographic data about MOOC participation is still difficult to find, there are some sample profiles with numbers. Steve Kolowich provides a glimpse in “Early demographic data hints at what type of student takes a MOOC,” in Inside Higher Ed. The article reviewed survey results from one Coursera MOOC.
Coursera began when co-founder Andrew Ng taught a course called Machine Learning to 104,000 online students. According to Kolowich, half of the 14,045 respondents to a demographic survey were full-time professionals employed in technology. Forty-one percent of those identified themselves as “professionals currently working in the software industry” and nine percent as professionals working in other areas of the information technology industry. Nearly twenty percent were graduate students in traditional post-secondary education programs and another 11.6 percent identified themselves as undergraduates. Of the remaining respondents, 3.5 percent were unemployed or employed outside of the technology industry; one percent were enrolled in a K-12 school program, and 11.5 percent identified themselves as “other.” When a subset of 11,686 participants was asked why they chose to take the course, thirty-nine percent responded that they were “curious about the topic,” another 30.5 percent said they were interested in the potential to “sharpen the skills” used in their current position and eighteen percent were interested in the course as a means to “position [themselves] for a better job.”
Kolowich also reviewed data on an electrical engineering course, Circuits and Electronics, offered by edX. Like the data from the Coursera sample, the numbers are by no means comprehensive, but they do provide a basic view into the demographics of the participants who completed the course. Of 155,000 who registered, 9,300 passed the midterm exam, 8,200 made it as far as the final exam, and just over 7,000 passed the final with the option to receive an informal certificate of completion from edX. Kolowich notes that the age distribution of participants who made it to the end lean towards what we in higher education would call “nontraditional” students (although Clay Shirkey would argue that the nontraditional is increasingly the norm). Half of the participants were twenty-six or older while about forty-five percent were traditional college-aged students. Five percent identified as current high school students. The oldest was seventy-four, the youngest fourteen. Roughly thirty percent said they did not have a bachelor’s degree while thirty-seven percent said they did. Twenty-eight percent claimed to have a master’s degree and six percent a doctorate.
 Steve Kolowich, “Early Demographic Data Hints at What Type of Student Takes a MOOC,” Inside Higher Ed, accessed March 6, 2013, http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/06/05/early-demographic-data-hints-what-type-student-takes-mooc.