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Who’s Taking MOOCs? Teachers

In free online courses offered by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teachers are increasingly the students. A study by the two universities has found that teachers are enrolling in their MOOCs in high numbers.

The study examines data from some one million MOOC students who enrolled in courses at edX, the nonprofit learning platform started by Harvard and MIT. Some one-fifth of participants answered a survey about their background in teaching, and 39 percent of them said they were current or former teachers.

Justin Reich, a research fellow at HarvardX, the university’s online arm, says he was surprised by the number of teachers who take MOOCs. “It’s the kind of thing that makes sense in retrospect, but it was novel information in the sense that not a lot of people were saying, ‘Hey, as we’re planning and designing these things, we really need to think about all the teachers that are going to show up,’” he says.

It isn’t exactly clear what kind of teachers are involved because questions can be interpreted differently, Mr. Reich says. When respondents indicated that they were teachers or instructors, did they mean academics? Or were they saying they had been Sunday-school teachers or teaching assistants back in graduate school?

Teachers enroll in MOOCs for a number of reasons, he says. They can use the courses to brush up on certain topics, to search for teaching resources, or for inspiration for their own classes. And since there has been so much hype about MOOCs in the field of education, Mr. Reich says, it makes sense that educators would check it out.

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