Are Stanford online courses of a high standard

Online courses don't make education fairer

Can higher education create better opportunities for all classes at the click of a mouse? Hardly, as a recent study suggests.

Can university education be made possible for everyone? Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun was a pioneer in this matter: in 2011 he decided to offer his lecture “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” exclusively online. It quickly became a success, with 160,000 virtual listeners. He made the so-called Massive Open Online Courses, MOOCs for short, known, and many followed his example. The idea behind it was to open up university education and make it accessible to everyone (mostly free of charge) with a click of the mouse.

A recent study from the USA shows that this form of education still does not bring the hoped-for opening up. Because the courses are mainly used by those who are already very educated. MOOCs have often been characterized as remedies against inequalities in the educational system, according to the treatise by John D. Hansen and Justin Reich. But this hope should not come true.

The two researchers from Harvard University and the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) use data from 68 courses. These were offered by their universities between 2012 and 2014. The realization is sobering: Most of the course participants come from an environment that is wealthier and more educated than the environment of the typical American.

Participants: More income and education

If there is a $ 20,000 difference in annual income, the likelihood of participation increases by 27 percent. Each additional year of training in the neighborhood increases the probability by as much as 69 percent on average. Those from better backgrounds were more likely to graduate.

"Our results raise concerns that MOOCS and similar online learning opportunities tend to exacerbate inequalities in educational outcomes related to socio-economic status rather than reduce them," the two researchers write in their abstract of the study.

One explanation could be media socialization, explain the authors. It is about more than basic access, the type of use is likely to be decisive. And that is more passive with socially weaker children and more active with stronger children. Hence, those who are privileged from the outset would benefit even more.

In Austria, university online courses have not yet been a big topic. A film studio is currently being built in Vienna that will be dedicated to the production of MOOCs. In cooperation with the University of Economics and Technology and the TU, production will start there from January 2016.


"Massively Open Online Courses" - "MOOCs" for short - are free courses at a high level, mostly free of charge and offered by universities. MOOCs are made available and supported by renowned educational institutions such as Harvard and MIT.

The idea behind MOOCs was first and foremost one Democratization of knowledge (freely accessible to all)However, universities have recently discovered Internet courses worldwide as an additional source of income.