Banner image for 8.MechCx.

It’s an ongoing debate. Can MOOCs help level the educational playing field? Will they be accessible to students of all backgrounds, or are there limits to their effectiveness with some types of students?

A study just published on a recent MITx introductory physics MOOC weighs in on this question. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog reports:

The MOOC Where Everybody Learned
by Steve Kolowich – September 16, 2014

Some MOOC skeptics believe that the only students fit to learn in massive open online courses are those who are already well educated. Without coaching and the support system of a traditional program, the thinking goes, ill-prepared students will not learn a thing.

Not so, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The researchers analyzed data from a physics course that MIT offered on the edX platform in the summer of 2013. They found that students who had spent significant time on the course showed evidence of learning no matter what their educational background.

“There was no evidence that cohorts with low initial ability learned less than the other cohorts,” wrote the researchers in a paper published this month by The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Not only that, but the MOOC students learned at a similar rate as did MIT students who had taken the on-campus version of a similar course. That finding surprised the researchers because the on-campus MIT students studied together in small groups for four hours every week and had regular access to their professors and other campus resources. Read more >

The MOOC in this study, 8.MReVx Mechanics Review, is currently running again. And a new version specifically for high school students, 8.MechCx AP® Physics C: Mechanics is open for registration and begins on January 15, 2015.