In our experience, massive open online courses (MOOCs) can reach non-traditional and disadvantaged learners if they address a recognized need, support the educational requirements of the intended cohort and enable learning with tangible outcomes (see E. J. Emanuel et al. Nature 503, 342; 2013).
The Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre at Australia's University of Tasmania has developed a MOOC on understanding dementia. This attracted almost 10,000 people from more than 60 countries in July, of which 89% were women, 70% were over the age of 40, and only 17% were educated beyond a bachelor's degree (compared with 44% reported by Emanuel and colleagues).
The course is tailored to the educational needs of the care workforce and family-based carers who support the more than 44 million people with dementia worldwide.
Our cohort-centric approach involved structuring the course to support non-traditional learners, including providing online technical and teaching support.
The completion rate for the 11-week course was 39%, which is considerably better than the international average for MOOCs (see C. Parr Times Higher Education 9 May 2013; go.nature.com/p25g67).