Will MOOCs do it and reduce global inequality in education?

Mohammad Khalil

An Interesting article has been published recently in Australasian marketing journal by Ichou (2018) about MOOCs potential to reduce global inequality in education. The paper's abstract:


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been hailed as means for unprecedented access to education, crossing divisions of race, class, age, gender, and geography. Yet empirical studies have demonstrated that students of MOOCs are primarily those already advantaged in terms of education and socioeconomic status. Drawing on recent academic literature and a theoretical understanding of the role of technology in education, this article examines whether MOOCs can indeed reduce global inequality in education. The paper concludes that while MOOCs can provide a novel form of learning through technology and remove a significant cost barrier to education, they will do little to reduce global educational gaps until they are able to reach and retain those most lacking education.

Key statements

"There are several barriers to accessing MOOCs, including lack of affordable, stable internet connections, proficiency in English, and digital experience and skills, all of which are associated with traditional characteristics of socioeconomic inequality."

"Differences in internet skills and use vary according to age, gender, education, income, technical access, and digital skills and experience, and have important consequences."

"There is also an economic element at play. MOOCs have become highly commercialised. At the moment, most MOOCs offer their courses free of charge, with a rich selection of free offerings from prestigious universities. However, several of the major platforms, such as Coursera, are for-profit educational companies....Moreover, although most MOOCs do not currently charge fees, this may change in the future. Already many have begun to charge fees for “verified certificates” or other certificates of accomplishment. Given the significant financial and human resources needed to produce MOOCs, the likelihood that universities will continue to create them and make them freely available indefinitely is uncertain."

"MOOCs provide some level of socialisation through discussion forums. However, despite the potential of technology to enable new forms of participation, most students merely watch pre-recorded videos without contributing their own ideas, and only a minority of students typically uses the areas of the site dedicated to student-generated posts. While access to content may be “democratised” and the format restructured, the creation and teaching of most MOOCs is far more traditional and often produced by professors at elite educational institutions. Thus, in the third area of subjectification, MOOCs would appear to have less impact than a classroom experience in helping students grow as individuals."


MOOCs build on technological innovations in order to expand the scale and reach of education. A single course can serve tens of thousands of students around the world, with lectures pre-recorded and assignments graded by machines or fellow students, if at all. Such massive increase in scale has led to claims that MOOCs can bridge the digital divide and bring unprecedented access to students in developing countries, thus substantially reducing global inequality in education. However, these utopian visions fall into the trap of technological determinism, viewing MOOCs as a “technical fix” to highly complex socioeconomic realities.

It is important, therefore, to take a more nuanced perspective of the role of MOOCs in addressing inequality in education. MOOCs enable certain forms of educational access, but such access is largely limited to those with strong internet connections, digital literacy skills, and available time, all of which tend to be associated with those who have already benefited from greater formal education.

In order to become truly accessible to all, MOOCs should be translated into languages other than English, include content that can be accessed on mobile devices and at low bandwidths, and be available in a disability-friendly format. Content should be adapted to local contexts and, where possible, supplemented with live instruction either in person or through video-conferencing. Furthermore, the top-down nature of most MOOCs could be inverted to benefit from crowdsourced contributions from participants. And MOOCs could partner with traditional universities to offer degrees, such as those by Georgia Tech and Arizona State University. MOOCs cannot replace formal education, and an important role remains for local classroom teachers and institutions of higher education. By offering free or inexpensive learning, MOOCs can provide a novel form of learning through technology and remove a significant cost barrier to education. Yet until they are able to reach and retain those most lacking education, MOOCs will do little to reduce global educational gaps, instead maintaining and extending this inequality.

To read more, please browse the article:

Can MOOCs reduce global inequality in education?


Ichou, R. P. (2018). Can MOOCs reduce global inequality in education?. Australasian Marketing Journal (AMJ).