MOOCs and barriers to access: a critical inquiry [team summary & infographic]

[Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash]

Most of us have heard the claims that MOOCs have “democratized” education and learning. In this critical inquiry, we wanted to explore a MOOC through Coursera as a team. The rationale behind this critical inquiry is to explore the question of the democratizing claims of MOOCs in light of potential barriers to access. This critical inquiry led us to research specific areas that each of us chose to focus on which are also connected to our personal learning plans [see below]. 



Sue Reid: “When my team engaged in discussion about what our learning activity and chosen technology would be I had no idea that we would create a presentation that is both a reflection of our individual interests, as well as our collective experience. Indeed, my teammates’ unique perspectives sharpened my focus and gave me clarity with regard to the direction of my learning plan. Our shared experience speaks to my personal conviction, that collaboration is a powerful force to effect positive change in the world, which Watters (2014) echoes, stating that, “through collective contemplation, intellectual reciprocity, and deliberate and wise action, the future can be better” (p. 115)”.  


Earl Einarson: “My individual research has been undertaken within the same process of gathering information for my contribution to the group work of this assignment. One research process informed the other; I was able to gain information from both areas of interest in my research. The group’s interest in outlining the barriers that exist for potential students of MOOCs created opportunities for me to expand my research parameters of my individual research; the barriers that exist for Indigenous Peoples of Canada to entering and making use of MOOCs – defined as “digital neocolonialism” by Adam (2018)”.


Marta Samokishyn: Our team’s topic of barriers to access in MOOCs inspired me to take a deeper look at critical digital pedagogy and a concept of agency, specifically from the critical information literacy perspective. Information literacy capacities of an individual have been identified as one of the potential barriers to access in MOOCs. Are participants of MOOCs fully encouraged to “create dialogue in which both students and teachers participate as full agents” (Morris & Stommel, 2018)? This is the question I would like to explore!”


Leigh McCarthy:  Exploring MOOCS and Barriers to Access with this group has been a truly fantastic collaborative experience! Challenging and creative! The focus of my individual research project, emanating from this collaborative project, is Online Learning and the Digital Divide in Canada. The digital divide is “not about a simple binary of youths who have technological access and those who do not,” but also calls for a decolonization of content and digital literacy skills (Houlden & Veletsianos, 2019; Jenkins, 2009, p. 18)”.


Jeff Goodes: What a wonderful team with which to collaborate. I will be exploring the use of audio in MOOCs and online education for my individual project, with a particular focus on how audio can enhance learning and lessen the digital divide”. 


Irwin asked an interesting question during our presentation: “How do we make MOOCs better?” We invite you to share your thoughts on this and any other areas that sparked your curiousity. 

References for our presentation and blog post: 

Adam, T. (2019). Digital neocolonialism and massive open online courses (MOOCs): Colonial pasts and neoliberal futures. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(3), 365-380. doi:10.1080/17439884.2019.1640740. 

Agarwal, A. (2013, June 15). Online universities: It’s time for teachers to join the revolution. The Observer. Retrieved from

Bogost, I. (2017). The Secret lives of MOOCs. In E. Losh (Ed.), MOOCs and their afterlives: Experiments in scale and access in Higher Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Clement, A. H., Gurstein, M., Longford, G., Moll, M., Shade, L. R. (Eds.) (2012). Connecting Canadians: Investigations in community informatics. Edmonton: Athabasca University Press.

Coursera. (2020). About. Retrieved from

Curran, A. & Seo, K. (2018). Audio engagement and learning. American Journal of Distance Education, 32(4), 223-235. doi: 10.1080/08923647.2018.1509266

Geist, M. (2013, April 9). Why Canada’s digital divide persists: Nation’s broadband failure lies in both access and adoption. Retrieved from

Grace, R., Stratton, C., & Fonseca, F. (2019). Content matters: How online language content gives rise to digital divides. Social Science Quarterly, 100(6), 1999-2016. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12691 

Hargittai, E., & Walejko, G. (2008). The Participation Divide: Content creation and sharing in the digital age. Information, Community and Society, 11(2), 239-256. Doi: 10.1080/13691180801946150

Houlden, S., & Veletsianos, G. (2019). A posthumanist critique of flexible online                                learning and its “anytime anyplace” claims. British Journal of Educational                                            Technology 50(3), 1005-1018. 

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 

Kanani, R. (2014, June 21). EdX CEO Anant Agarwal on the future of Online Learning. Forbes. Retrieved from

Köster J. (2018). Video in the age of digital learning. Cham: Springer. 

Lambert, S. (2020). Do MOOCs contribute to student equity and social inclusion? A systematic review 2014–18. Computers & Education, 145. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2019.103693

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (dis)course: A distinctive social justice aligned definition of open education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 225-244. Retrieved from

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education (35)2, 250-262. Retrieved from

McLuhan, M., & Lapham, L. H. (1994). Understanding media : the extensions of man. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Morris, S. M., & Stommel, J. (2017). Open education as resistance: MOOCs and critical digital pedagogy. In E. Losh (Ed.),  MOOCs and their afterlives: Experiments in scale and access in Higher Education. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. doi:10.7208/chicago/9780226469591.003.0012

Morris, S. M., & Stommel, J. (2018). An Urgency of teachers. Hybrid Pedagogy Inc. Retrieved from

O’Rourke, Patrick (2020, April 17). Ontario government, Apple, Rogers partner to give 21,000 iPads to students in low-income families. Retrieved from

Park, S., Jeong, S., & Ju, B. (2018). Employee learning and development in virtual hrd: Focusing on moocs in the workplace. Industrial and Commercial Training, 50(5), 261-271. doi:10.1108/ICT-03-2018-0030. 

Rohs, M., & Ganz, M. (2015). MOOCs and the claim of education for all: A disillusion by empirical data. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 16(6), 1–19. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v16i6.2033

Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00338.x

Smith, A., Warren, J., Ting, S., & Taliaferro, J. (2018). Developing online learning in the helping professions : Online, blended, and hybrid models. New York: Springer. 

Statistica. Percentage of internet users who watch online video content on any device as of January 2018, by country. Retrieved from

Tunney, C. (2020, May 2). Liberals hasten high-speed broadband access plan in response to pandemic CRTC data suggests as few as 40.8 per cent of rural households have access to high-speed broadband. CBC News. Retrieved from

Watters, A. (2014). The monsters of education technology. Retrieved from

One thought on “MOOCs and barriers to access: a critical inquiry [team summary & infographic]

  1. Thank you for synthesizing your group’s experience in this blog post, Marta.

    I attended your presentation and found it to be very engaging. The evidence presented in your session overwhelmingly indicates that these Massive (literally massive with 40,000 plus participants enrolled in the course experience you engaged in alone) courses are more often than not exclusionary, which makes me consider; how can we make MOOCs more inclusive?

    Using instructional strategies to ensure inclusivity may be one way to begin equalizing these open learning opportunities. Phan (2018) postulated how MOOC facilitators could ensure that every student, despite their background, received a valuable learning experience, and aimed to engage learners with language barriers, and those not familiar with the western educational culture. Also examined in this study were the challenges students faced during the course delivery, including participating in discussions, peer assessments and the ability to apply the content being presented. Profoundly, this research concluded that “MOOCs will probably never be one-size-fits-all courses due to their unconformable body of learners. All the narratives, anecdotes, and lessons learned from MOOCs serve as a source of reference at best” (p. 114)

    Your infographic is a stunning re-enforcement of Phan’s (2018) findings, and it visually re-enforces the need for educators to understand the disparities in the use of MOOCs and other educational technologies.

    Phan, T. (2018). Instructional Strategies That Respond to Global Learners’ Needs in Massive Open Online Courses. Online Learning, 22(2), 95-118.

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