Can MOOCs Meet the Top Needs of Adult Learners?

Last fall in The Evolllution, Northern Kentucky University’s Executive Director of Educational Outreach Victoria Berling identified the five most critical needs of adult students based on a series of surveys conducted at the university. Let’s assess how well MOOCs do with meeting these needs.

1. Programming that works with their schedules

For adult learners, course convenience and flexibility ranks at the top of the list. They want their degrees as quickly as possible, but they are also often juggling various other commitments, like work and family. Being online and with options ranging from scheduled to self-paced, MOOCs meet this criterion perfectly.

2. Relevant degree programs

Most adult learners are in school to advance their career, so what they learn must be relevant. If you leave off the word degree, MOOCs meet this need relatively well—in addition to general education courses, there are many continuing and professional development courses available. The new course sequence certificates from Coursera and edX may also serve as degree alternatives for learners in certain areas.

3. Clear expectations

Adult learners need to know what they need to do. Berling addresses this issue mainly in terms of administrative support. For MOOC students earning course sequence certificates, the expectations are clearly laid out in terms of a prescribed course schedule. Those looking to put together an educational program on their own are currently left to their own devices for the most part. Udacity may be the MOOC provider that addresses this need best—it provides various levels of support for learners in its paid subscription courses.

4. Feedback from instructors

Adults value both formal and informal feedback from instructors. This is one area where MOOCs fall short; however, MOOC students do have a variety of opportunities to receive feedback from peers and teaching assistants. Again, Udacity’s paid program offers more personalized feedback.

5. Acknowledgement of prior learning

This criterion is less relevant to MOOCs themselves than to what learners can do afterward. However, with the growing move toward competency-based programs, more institutions are experimenting with ways to assess and recognize prior learning.

Overall, it looks like MOOCs have the potential to meet the most critical needs of adult learners pretty well.

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