Let us leave aside for a moment all of the discussion about the quality of online courses and worry about the potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to hurt the academic profession. There’s probably one number that matters all a lot more for understanding what MOOCs are really going to do: 80 percent.

That’s the percent of people who had registered for a MOOC and viewed at least one video lecture who already have a two- or four-year degree. Some 44 percent of MOOC-takers have some graduate education, according to research by investigators from the University of Pennsylvania.

That means that this development is highly unlikely to “disrupt” higher education.


What it suggests, in fact, is that online courses might be very useful for helping people to “improve their life situations” but in a very familiar, community college class sense. It’s probably just courses people are taking because they’re curious, or because it might be helpful for their careers. It looks like MOOCs are the equivalent of me taking a PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet course; it’s just something I might want to do for my job.

It’s not college; it’s mostly just professional development.

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer