Reflections on a massive open online life cycle assessment course

Eric Masanet*, Yuan Chang, Yuan Yao, Remy Briam, Runze Huang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: This article summarizes student performance and survey data from a recent massive open online course (MOOC) on life cycle assessment (LCA). Its purpose is to shed light on student learning outcomes, challenges, and success factors, as well as on improvement opportunities for the MOOC and the role of online courses in LCA education in general.

Methods: Student survey data and course performance data were compiled, analyzed, and interpreted for 1257 students who completed a pre-course survey and 262 students who completed a post-course survey. Both surveys were designed to assess student learning outcomes, topical areas of difficulty, changing perceptions on the nature of LCA, and future plans after completing the MOOC.

Results and discussion: Results suggest that online courses can attract and motivate a large number of students and equip them with basic analytical skills to move on to more advanced LCA studies. However, results also highlight how MOOCs are not without structural limitations, especially related to mostly “locked in” content and the impracticality of directly supporting individual students, which can create challenges for teaching difficult topics and conveying important limitations of LCA in practice.

Conclusions: Online courses, and MOOCs in particular, may present an opportunity for the LCA community to efficiently recruit and train its next generations of LCA analysts and, in particular, those students who might not otherwise have an opportunity to take an LCA course. More surveys should be conducted by LCA instructors and researchers moving forward to enable scientific development and sharing of best practice teaching methods and materials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1901-1907
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014


  • Education
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Massive open online course
  • Pedagogy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)

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