There has been a lot of talk and research on massive open online courses (MOOCs) and their potential impact, but is it really applicable to developing countries? How can universities take advantage of online content? And what kind of regulations and quality assurance mechanisms do we need?
Last year, as a part of the “Tajikistan: Higher Education Sector Study,” I led a team to conduct pilot activities to assess the feasibility of using MOOCs and other e-learning content in higher education institutions (HEIs) in Tajikistan.
Recently the Government of Tajikistan has decided to discontinue existing correspondence-based programs for part-time students and shift to a “distance learning” system using computers and Internet technology. Thus, this study was conducted to assess the possibility of using information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve access, quality and relevance of higher education in Tajikistan. In addition, the study supported a mini-project to pilot a number of ICT-based solution models to tackle challenges identified in the country’s National Education Development Strategy.
Recently, we interviewed pilot participants about their experience participating in MOOCs, e-learning and distance education, and then produced a series of short video clips. These videos showcase the impact of potential use of online learning and distance education for improving access, quality and relevance of education as well as reduction of the gender gap. One of the female students in the video mentioned that distance education allows her to continue studying after having kids.
The World Bank Group’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and promoting shared prosperity can’t be achieved unless we see a huge boost in the quality and quantity of infrastructure services. Boost infrastructure and do it right and you can generate jobs and boost economic growth. Improving sanitation and access to clean water is essential to improve health outcomes.
According to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, “Today, the developing world spends about $1 trillion on infrastructure, and only a small share of those projects involves private actors. Overall, private investments and public-private partnerships in developing countries totaled $150 billion in 2013, down from $186 billion in 2012. So it will take the commitment of all of us to help low- and middle-income countries bridge the massive infrastructure divide.”
Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can be an important way for governments to help supplement the role of the public sector in meeting the infrastructure deficit. But PPPs are controversial – there have been some high profile, expensive failures, and some stakeholders feel the private sector should not be involved in providing basic infrastructure services like water.
On the flip side, many have over optimistic expectations for PPPs. PPPs are often not easy to do or to get right and governments need to make sure they are choosing projects suitable for the PPP approach. Through a variety of initiatives and collaboration with partners – including the world’s main multilateral lending institutions – we are helping clients better understand both the potential and limitations of PPPs, including helping them assess when a PPP is the right option and when it is not, and how to procure and manage these projects effectively.
Our free massive open online course (MOOC) – “How can PPPs help deliver better services?” – will help participants gain an understanding of when, how and why to implement PPPs, based on real examples of what has made for successful PPPs and what has led to failures. Students will gain insights into the PPP life cycle and its challenges, from project selection to implementation. Whether you are a PPP practitioner, policy maker or completely new to the subject of PPPs there is something here for you.
Imagine a group of researchers, students, civil society organizations, development practitioners and professors from the London School of Economics all gathered together for a lively event to discuss the first World Bank MOOC on Citizen Engagement.
There is a new and exciting field emerging that combines the insight of analytics and psychology; it’s known as crowd science. Already, it’s a fairly pervasive industry, involving not just data scientists but also behavioral economists, marketers, and entrepreneurs.
Crowd science analyzes data (through mining, algorithms, statistical modeling, and others) and then applies psychological or behavioral theories to make sense of the analyses. It is sometimes referred to as the “guinea pig” economy because it utilizes consumer tests— often without the consumer realizing it— to obtain its data and, therefore, insight.
One of the most popular forms of crowd science is A/B testing whereby website visitors are shown different interfaces or versions of the same site. The way in which each visitor navigates through the site is then tracked to determine which version is more appealing or effective. One reason A/B testing is so helpful is that it divides users into a control group and a treatment group, allowing the engineers of the experiment to determine not just what the issues are but how to solve them. It also allows decision-makers to test for biases in project design and implementation.
It’s a sign of the times that we had the first digital media academy at the World Urban Forum this year. Digital media has come a long way and is here to stay. Its effects have been transformational in many areas of communications – print journalism, book publishing, and marketing & advertising. Now, learning is seeing itself transformed by the same technologies that offer reach, scale, and interactivity at a price tag that’s hard to beat.
I was invited to share my experience in promoting the WBG’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on climate change, as I had created the communications strategy and overseen its launch, which was heavy on social media and reach to the developing world. I was inspired by earlier campaigns and also by the TED organization’s single-minded approach to branding. See attached presentation for details.
The New York Times famously labeled 2012 the 'year of the MOOC', acknowledging the attention and excitement generated by a few high profile 'massive open online courses' which enrolled tens of thousands of students from all of the world to participate in offerings from a few elite universities in the United States.
What might 2014 bring for MOOCs, especially as might relate to situations and circumstances in so-called ‘developing countries’?
It may be hard for some in North America to believe, given the near saturation coverage in some English language web sites that focus on higher education and in certain thematically-linked corners of the English-language blogosphere, but the 'MOOC' phenomenon is only just now starting to register with many educational policymakers in middle and low income countries around the world. While many MOOCs have (from the start, and increasingly) attracted students from all over the world, at the policy level, 'MOOCs' have not – at least in my experience during the course of my work at the World Bank on education and technology issues -- been a topic much discussed by our counterparts in ministries of higher education and universities. Yes, one does see the occasional bullet point in a PowerPoint presentation towards the end of an institutional planning meeting, but my impression is that this can often be as much a reflection of the speaker’s desire to project a familiarity with emerging buzzwords as it is a reflection of any sustained strategic or practical consideration of the potential relevance (or threat) of MOOCs to traditional practices in higher education outside of ‘rich’ countries.
More than a few commenters in North America have invoked the Technology Hype Cycle(a concept developed and popularized by Gartner to represent the maturity, adoption and social application of certain technologies, and their application) when proclaiming that MOOCs have now past a 'peak of inflated expectations' to enter a period known as the 'trough of disillusionment' as a result of things like the recent change of course or ‘pivot’ of Udacity, one of the leading MOOC platform providers.
While this assessment of the state of maturity/adoption may or may not be true from a North American perspective, and even if we concede that technology hype cycles are being compressed (it took Second Life and other ‘virtual worlds’, another recent notable educational technology phenomenon, three times as long to move from a period of great hype in educational circles to one of ‘disillusion’), such commenters may often neglect to consider that many hype cycles can exist simultaneously for the same technology or technology-enabled approach or service, depending on where you might find yourself in the world.
While perhaps unsure of the extent to which MOOCs represent a 'threat' to existing educational practices, a new avenue for higher education, or perhaps something else entirely, I agree with people who say that the reports of the death of the MOOC are highly exaggerated. Roy Amara, the longtime president of the Institute for the Future, famously remarked that "We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run." I would not be surprised if this holds for many of the trends that we, as a matter of convenience, and correctly or not, group together under the general heading of ‘MOOCs’ today.
In my personal experience working at the World Bank on projects at the intersection of technology and education sectors, and when in discussions in many similar sorts of international organizations, ‘MOOCs’ are, generally speaking, still not a hot topic of consideration for educational policymakers in most middle and low income countries. That said, they are starting to gain increasing mindshare in some places. At the very least, they are generating some real confusion (and where there is confusion, there is potentially opportunity as well, for better and for worse).
As a result, many folks in the international donor community are now beginning to ask themselves questions like:
• How can, or should, we be talking about MOOCs when speaking with our counterparts in government around the world?
• What are the real, practical opportunities to consider in the short and medium term?
• Where, and how, might education ministries and universities wish to engage with related issues -- and what role (if any) should organizations like the World Bank play in this process of engagement?
Over the past month, the EduTech Debate site has been featuring posts and comments from authors exploring various issues and opportunities presented by the phenomenon of so-called Massive Online Open Courses. While perhaps it hasn't been a 'debate' per se, it has featured responses and reactions from the authors to each other's posts, and I thought I'd quickly highlight the conversation that has been occurring over there, in case you may have missed it and doing so might be useful.
Excited discussions about 'MOOCs' are reaching a fever pitch in some quarters. Separating the hope from the hype related to the phenomenon known as Massive Open Online Courses, in which tens, and in some cases hundreds of thousands of students from around the world participate in (or at least register for) the same university course over the Internet, is not an easy task. There is, to be sure, much here to be potentially excited about.
That said, most of news (and hype) is coming out of North America, and the prominent perspectives on MOOCs are, to a great extent, coming out of North America as well. While voices from Silicon Valley and elite educational institutions in the United States (amplified by prominent media personalities) have been the loudest to date, a fair component of the 'hope' surrounding MOOCs has to do with their potential to improve educational opportunities for students in so-called 'developing countries'.
Trying to keep up with MOOC-related announcements and news stories, let alone all of the opinions on them and speculations on their future, could be a full time job. (I suspect it probably is a full time job for some people, actually. If you are interested in this sort of thing but don't have that much time, you may be interested in a recent EduTech post on Making Sense of MOOCs -- A Reading List.) Wander through this din of excitement, however, and you discover pockets of relative silence.
What are some of the emerging perspectives of key groups in developing countries related to MOOCs?
A few years ago I participated in a fascinating online course. I had earlier read a thought-provoking article called Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by a Canadian academic named George Siemens, and was intrigued to stumble across references to a related online discussion that was taking place, led by Professor Siemens and another Canadian researcher named Stephen Downes. OK, to be honest, I am not sure that I actually participated in the course (and I wasn't actually sure if it was a course in the traditional sense ... although it was certainly a community), given that my 'participation' consisted of a haphazard scanning of emails and RSS feeds being generated by people whose were much more engaged in the effort than I was. That said, both the content and approach piqued my curiosity, and I spent enough time browsing through related materials that I was able to tell my boss with a straight face that I was doing some 'online learning'.
I saw Siemens speak at eLearning Africa, was suitably impressed, and later tried to figure out a way to bring him to the World Bank to talk about his work as part a new series we were trying to put together on 'eduradicals'. I was particularly interested in learning more about, and exposing colleagues to, the concept of a 'massive open online course', which (it turns out) was the label that was being applied to what Siemens and Downes (and a few thousand other people) had been engaged in. In this I rather spectacularly failed, as most people with whom I spoke thought that the whole enterprise I was trying to describe, while conceptually quite interesting, was unlikely to be of practical interest or relevance in the near term to the policymakers with whom we were engaged in developing countries. My failure in this instance was, I believe, more a consequence of my inability to articulate to my colleagues in a convincing way just what exactly the possibilities were of this 'connectivist' learning theory and of one a 'model' by which this theory might be explored and put into practice -- which was one of the first (and possibly the very first) MOOCs.
The excitement about the promise and potential of Massive Open Online Courses is white hot in many quarters. For those who aren't familiar with the phenomenon:
A MOOC is an online course, usually at the university level, offered for free over the Internet which aims for large-scale (some courses have enrolled over 100,000 students at a time), 'open' (anyone can join) participation over the Internet.
Daphne Koller, the co-founder of Coursera, one of the largest and best-known MOOCs (the two other 'leaders in this space are Udacity and edX) stopped by the World Bank in late February to talk about what Coursera is doing, and learning. While MOOCs have enrolled students from developing countries pretty much from the start, there have not yet been many attempts to systematically include MOOCs as part of targeted education efforts in low income countries. What might such an attempt look like?
With support from the World Bank, a new pilot initiative in Tanzania is seeking to incorporate Coursera offerings as part of a broader initiative to help equip students with market-relevant IT skills. Employers in Tanzania complain that there is a mismatch of skills in the local labor market. Many jobs go unfilled because there are deficits of people with the relevant skills in the local market. There is a growing need for IT and ICT knowledge and skills necessary meet growing demand for technically skilled workers across Tanzanian corporations. For this and other reasons, Tanzania is trying to improve the quality of its higher education system. Currently a very small number of highly capable African students go abroad to meet their related educational and training needs. At the same time, Tanzania is hoping to improve its capacity to attract high caliber students from across the region to study at Tanzanian universities. What, then, to do?