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Below from Rockefeller South American correspondnts - tell us who else  

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Challenging traditional learning
By: Nina Augustsson
As economies grow, they require new skills to become more competitive. Traditional learning is still
beyond the means of the majority of workers in our region, let alone acquiring education from top
universities or institutes abroad. This is where MOOCs are becoming the next disruptive education
innovation to help South American workers catching up with developed country workers’ productivity.
A 2012 study from the World Bank4 highlighted the growing gap between what the education system
offer and the skills that are valued in the labor market in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.
Moreover, the current stock of skilled workers may
not be enough to sustain economic growth and
increase the productivity of the economy.
Figure 1 shows one side of this: skilled workers are
becoming scarce and difficult to hire compared to
other regions. The other side of the story is that
incentives to acquire more skills are not well placed
since earning premiums of higher education have
been declining for several years.
The education system may be partly responsible for
not providing the required skills to sustain future
economic growth. This is where Massive Open
Online Courses (MOOCs) could add pressure for a
complete overhaul of the way the education system offers a particular set of skills that are valuable in the
market. The term MOOC was ‘coined in 2008 by a group of Canadian academics to describe the
phenomenon of gathering people to discuss a topic online in a structured way. MOOCs have since then
migrated to Silicon Valley through prestigious universities and private sector initiatives.
The New York Times coined 2012 as “the Year of the MOOC.” Their promoters consider that “nothing
has more potential to lift people out of poverty –by providing them with a free education to get a job or
improve in the job they have.” Others discard MOOC as just “re-institutionalizing higher education [in
the US] in an era of budget cuts, sky-rocketing tuition, and unemployed college graduates burdened by
student debt.” Today the major MOOC platforms are based in the US: EdX started as a non-profit
consortium between Harvard and MIT but now include a dozen universities; Coursera is an equity
investment from Caltech and UPenn; and Udacity is a company founded by Sebastian Thrun of Stanford.
They have been around since 2011-2012 and enroll millions per year. Anyone can register and participate.
Most courses attract tens of thousands of students, which is an irresistible draw for many professors.5
Now one can usually chose to audit the course for free and open to the public, or, for a fee, take it for
credit/certificate of completion, although often criticized of not being very good at accreditation —“a
MOOC is almost designed to make cheating even easier that ever before.” 6
Though MOOCs originated in North America, two-thirds of their users are from around the world.
International users are adapting the courses offered at Harvard, MIT and Stanford to fit their local
communities. While the debate about MOOCs in North America has been going on for a few years, the
4 C. Aedo and I. Walker (2012), Skills for the 21st Century in Latin America and the Caribbean, Washington D.C.,World Bank.
5 Audreay Watters wrote a piece in Inside Higher Education about college credentials, wondering whether students will choose to follow a star
professor’s individual brand outside the walls of the university.
6 It is unable of playing the role of the gate-keeper, which is one of the things universities do. Udacity recently announced plans to have students
pay $80 to take exams at testing centers operated around the world by Pearson, a global education company.
FIGURE 1. Average time in weeks to fill a job vacancy,
by regions of the world
Source: Almeida, R. and J.J. Filho (2011), “Demand for skills and the
degree of mismatches: Evidence from job vacancies in the developing
world”, unpublished, quoted in Aedo, C. and I. Walker (2012).
debate is just beginning in many places around the world. Sixty eight percent of Coursera’s users come
from outside the US, with Brazil, India, China and Mexico on the top-ten list.
In Rwanda, for example, Kepler University has organized seminar classes, using the resources and
accredited by US universities and online learning will be combined with intensive seminar style learning
on campus. Also, University El Salvador has begun teaching a class on electrical engineering, using
MIT’s edX class and students at the Catholic University in La Paz are showing ways of combining
individual online time with in-person group discussions with peers and mentors. Professors say their inclass
students benefit from the online materials. Some have rearranged their courses so that students do
the online lesson first, then come to class for interactive projects and help with problem areas.
The international aid and academic community is also making use of recent empirical knowledge and
research to position them in the MOOC debate. The IFC made a symbolic equity investment in Coursera
in 2013 to promote education in emerging markets, and the World Bank has signed an agreement with
Coursera to “meet the demand for practical solutions-oriented learning on pressing issues in developing
countries.” Furthermore, the US government takes the official role of promoting the use of MOOCs as
public diplomacy. US embassies in over 40 countries are hosting “MOOC camp” sessions.
Most of the debate of MOOCs’ potential for developing countries, is still mostly taking place in Western
news outlets “exporting” MOOCs. However, news such as the full computer science Master’s Degree
program offered by Georgia Tech via MOOCs at a reduced price, has spread to computer science faculties
in developing countries. This trend will continue since MOOC platforms are opening up throughout the
world: Spain (UniMOOC), Germany (iVersity), Australia (Open2Study), Brazil (Veduca), China
(XuetangX, Ewant), and Rwanda (GenerationRwanda).
The emergence of educational degree alternatives based on free online resources might just be the
“leapfrog” solution that allows countries full of undereducated youth to move into the middle classes. But
the main challenges remain to figure out how MOOCs can enhance local education in developing
countries, instead of competing with national education systems, possibly undermining them, washing
over cultural norms and educational traditions. Additionally most classes are also offered in English still.
Other critics fear a potential two-tier system of global higher education, with a small number of elites able
to participate in traditional university educational environments —benefitting from small, face-to-face
groups in close physical contact with their professors, while the vast majority of students, especially those
in developing countries, have to make do with participating in a watered down educational experience
delivered through MOOCs. Furthermore, most people that complete MOOC courses are college educated.
This is already true in North America. However, just because new technological innovations now benefit
a small privileged group, does not mean that this will always be the case.
The capacity critique questions how local initiatives will be able to develop their proper education
systems, educate qualified teachers, improve the quality of existing faculty members by merely adopting
technologies, developed and maintained by others. The MOOCs might not be the messianic panacea, nor
the death higher education as we know it, but there are two ways for policymakers to view opportunities
in MOOCs —they can passively participate in the MOOC wave, as consumers of an imported product, or
they can it as a strategic opportunity to help develop related local capacities.
More generally, the question is about finding a balance —MOOCs can offer vast resources, while putting
to test traditional forms of learning (or schooling) and when it comes to developing your proper digital
identity, MOOCs are great alternatives to traditional ways. The open online courses simply should not
intend to do the things traditional teaching does, but in terms of resources, the technology is invaluable.
We will hear more news like this in the next years: the Inter-American Development Bank will soon start
to offer online courses, after signing an agreement with EdX platform in February 2014. These are good
news for MOOCs in the region.

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