Towards equal opportunities in MOOCs: Reducing gender & social-class achievement gaps in China with a value relevance affirmation

Towards equal opportunities in MOOCs: Reducing gender & social-class achievement gaps in China with a value relevance affirmation

Rene F. Kizilcec, Glenn M. Davis, and Geoffrey L. Cohen

The presence of large achievement gaps in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) implies that not everyone who can gain access to a course shares the same opportunities to succeed. This study tests the role of a social psychological barrier to achievement that can exist alongside important structural barriers (e.g., Internet access, insufficient prior knowledge). Learners who experience social identity threat (SIT) - a fear of being judged negatively in light of a social group they identify with - are at risk of underperforming. In the context of an English language learning MOOC for Chinese learners, we found that men experienced more SIT and lower-class learners (from non-capital cities) reported low social status (N = 1,664). In a randomized experiment (N = 1,990), a value relevance affirmation intervention, administered at the start of the course, increased persistence, grades, and completion rates exclusively among lower-class men, who were the lowest performing group in the course. Efforts to establish equal opportunities in online learning should therefore go beyond initiatives that increase access through technology to incorporate strategies that ease social identity threat to create psychologically welcoming learning environments.