What are MOOCs?
MOOCs are a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs are essentially the digital extension (or transformation) of distance learning. The term was coined in response to the George Siemens of Athabasca University led course called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge’ which experimented with mixing face to face students with digital participants from the general public in 2008. In 2011, Stanford University developed 3 MOOC courses which quickly gained more than 200,000 registrations combined in a matter of weeks.
By 2012 several well-financed providers such as Coursera, Udacity and edX emerged onto the scene touting content partnerships with several world elite and American ivy league universities alongside a multitude of lower tier university and independently developed courses. For this article’s purpose we’d like to focus on what these MOOC courses mean for students and young professionals in Africa at large.
What kind of MOOCs exist?
- xMOOCs – follow a traditional classroom style format where the eXpert (origin of the preceding x) determines curriculum content, leads a class via instructional video’s and classroom assignments during a given time frame. A lot of the courses on Coursera, for example, follow this method.
- cMOOCs – do not follow a traditional model instead allowing the learner to choose and pace themselves on the content. The c stands for Connectivist, a which model attempts to push boundaries by also allowing for the learner to create content on the very subject material they are learning. Usually a mentor figure of some kind is still present just to loosely guide the process along but it is up to the learner to choose their own path. Many of the courses available on Treehouse a good example of cMOOCs.
What do MOOCs mean for Africa?
- Access to an ever growing amount of educational content at little to no cost
- Content is, in most cases, accessible across a number of devices
The courses you can find available at some of the world’s most popular MOOCs range from ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ to ‘Learning Basic English’. MOOCs are already taring down the access barriers to education enabling Africans to access world class content at very little cost.
Note that it’s not ‘for free’ as professed by many MOOC providers and mainstream media articles because this is not exactly the case in many instances for the average African user. While a course like ‘Financial Markets 101’ from Yale University may now be open to participants at no cost for enrolment, the supporting ‘hidden’ costs to access this material for the average African user is largely ignored.
Two core issues at the heart of the multi-tiered problem are:
- access to quality computing devices/facilities on the one hand
- access to quality internet on the other.
Access to quality desk/laptop/mobile computing is lacking in many homes and institutions around Africa, the problem intensifies when we look at rural sectors of Africa. While low cost mobile somewhat provides a viable alternative to access MOOCs, not all MOOCs have optimised their content delivery for low end mobile systems.
Whether you are dealing with sporadic power dropouts in South Africa or Sierra Leone or exorbitant broadband internet access prices in Namibia or Mozambique, getting stable and fast internet access is still a hindering factor in many parts of Africa.
The above notwithstanding, MOOCs have the potential to enhance the efficiency of Africa’s public education systems (the so called ‘Ivory tower’ problem) if the political/academic will and social dynamic in the various countries is present.
What do MOOCs mean for me as a young African student or professional?
MOOCs mean that even without instructions or assistance from your lecturer or employer that you can gain world class knowledge, skills and accreditation by participating in a MOOC of your choice. The access problems notwithstanding, you can take courses in various fields offered by top elite universities such as Harvard, MIT or UCT at little to no cost.
The information and course content might not always be accurate or appropriate for your locale but nevertheless being able to study ‘Computer Science 101’ from Stanford University (The creators of Google studied there) in the comfort of your home or local library beats having to raise local equivalent in USD currency to attend the course physically. Never-mind the normal entry requirements to get into some of these ‘elite’ universities.
MOOCs can also assist young entrepreneurs, if you are able to beat the internet access hurdles, you can enhance your skills cheaply and thereby decrease the risk of your business venture failing.
What do I need to access a MOOC?
- Somewhat stable Internet access
- A desk/laptop or smartphone/tablet
- A willingness to learn and discipline to hold yourself accountable for finishing a given course
P.S. Many post 2013 Samsung smartphone/tablet devices ship with the ‘Samsung Learning Hub’ applications which provides access to a select number of MOOCs. If you are lucky to own an Apple device, they also ship with the iTunesU application which provides an extensive selection of MOOCs.
How do I find a MOOC that interests me?
A Google or search engine query is usually an easy enough method to find a suitable MOOC. For example the search: ‘Computer Science MOOC’ will return a good number of actual MOOC websites that offer such a course. Another search query method is ‘University name – class name MOOC’ e.g. ‘University of Cape Town Medical Science MOOC’.
Some prefer to research their most suitable MOOC by referring to ‘best of’ lists, which list MOOC platforms based on some or other criteria. We have included some of those lists below and more can be found via a search engine query (such as searching for ‘Best MOOCs’)
We’ve found MOOC List an excellent resource for people who really want to get specific. It is a comprehensive database of most MOOC courses available on various platforms to date.
We are happy to answer readers queries regarding MOOCs. Please either leave a comment or mail us for a reply.