The Global Reach of Social Work

Exploring Motivations and Participation in a Social Work MOOC


  • Katie Richards-Schuster University of Michigan
  • Mary Ruffolo
  • Charity Hoffman
  • Change Kwesele



Global social work, web-based learning, massive online open courses (MOOCS), social work education


Technological innovations in social work education support efforts to expand the global reach of social work education. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) represent one type of innovation; however, little is known about their potential for promoting global social work. In 2015, our school of social work developed the first known social work MOOC using the edX platform. In this paper, we explore the initial voluntary survey data from registrants (n=992) to determine participation patterns and motivations. Our data indicates that the MOOC engaged participants from over 180 countries, with over one-third (35%) from the United States. Over 40% of participants rated themselves as novices with social work content. Thematic analysis of open-ended responses suggests that many participants were working in organizations or NGOs and wanted information about how to be more effective as a worker in these settings. Their participation in the MOOC allowed for exploration of a social work educational program. Further analysis of demographic trends, motivations, and participation levels suggests that MOOCs can be a platform for extending the reach of social work education to global social work settings. More research is needed to fully explore the potential of this educational platform for expanding the reach of social work education globally.


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