We Need More Women in Engineering MOOCs
Shawn Wasserman posted on March 13, 2014 |
Coursera releases female participation data in wake of International Women’s Day.

Coursera User and Enrollment Female Student Fraction Trend.

March 8th marked International Women’s Day this year. In response to the festivities, Coursera released data on female interactions within their MOOCs. The results, for the most part, are promising. Overall, about 40% of their users are female and the numbers are climbing, though work is still needed to bring women to STEM courses.

Overall Results


Estimated Coursera Female Student Fraction by Country.

The estimated demographics of female students by country are the result of a survey of over 250,000 Coursera students. The dotted line in this and other graphs represents the estimated number of female users.

It seems that Romania is a innovator, with a near 50% female student ratio. India, however, seems to bottom out the list with a mere 26% female student ratio. In North America, Canada leads the way with 45.7%, followed by the US at 43.6% and Mexico at 39.8%.

Interestingly, Coursera found that there is a correlation between female user proportions and a country’s Gender Equality Index (GEI). Typically, the better a woman’s access to education in the country, as per GEI, the larger that country’s Coursera female user ratio. An additional correlation, though weaker than GEI, was seen for a country’s female economic activity.

Coursera Women in Engineering


Comparison of College and Coursera Female Student Fraction by Field.

Median Coursera Class Female Student Fraction by Topic.

A significant correlation can also be seen between the percentage of female college graduates in a country and the percentage of female Coursera students. However, 95% of countries surveyed saw a smaller ratio in Coursera than in their colleges.

One culprit of this discrepancy is the large number of engineering courses in Coursera. These courses will typically have lower female enrollment, as they do on campus. Though the discrepancies between college graduates and Coursera students are smaller for engineering than sciences or the humanities, it is clear that the low proportion of women in engineering and the high proportion of engineering courses likely affected the overall results.

This is particularly clear when comparing enrollment by topic: traditional STEM courses, with the exception of medicine, have an overall lower female enrollment.

The study also hypotheses that female ratios are affected by age (typically in the child-rearing range) and general internet demographics.

The Future

Gender equality is an important aspect of Coursera’s identity. Many of the company’s leaders are women, including co-founder Daphne Koller and President Lila Ibrahim, and Coursera hopes to parlay their female leadership to increase women’s education around the world.

As mentioned before, the proportions of women joining Coursera is on the rise overall, which represents a good step forward for MOOCs. There is still plenty to accomplish though, particularly concerning STEM courses.

Access to education empowers women to better their lives, the lives of their family and the lives of their community. Furthermore, diversity in a field allows for more robust and successful solutions. As the world’s problems grow, we will need all hands on deck to help us through the future. So to learners of every age and gender, let’s get our thinking caps on.

Source and images from Coursera.

Reference Coursera 2.


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