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Scaling development learning with MOOCs

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“The main point I took away from the course is that PPPs are a complex process and are only as good as the legal, regulatory and technical framework that support them,” said Felister Munyua, a participant in the World Bank Group’s Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). “To ensure their success a country must work on building these resources.” 
Munyua is one of 180,000 participants from 190 countries around the world who have engaged in development learning through the six MOOCs offered so far by the World Bank Group.  The WBG MOOCs have been designed to meet the learning needs of both development practitioners as well as interested citizens, on topics of universal interest such as climate change, PPPs, financing for development, and citizen engagement. We rolled out a MOOC on Risk and Opportunity soon after the launch of last year’s World Development Report. And we collaborated on a MOOC with Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University on “ Getting the Most of our Natural Resources” that has further extended our reach beyond what we thought possible.
These MOOCs have helped us reach and engage a much larger and diverse audience than we attracted to country level face to face dissemination events organized in the past. I have been struck by the learners’ eagerness and excitement to collaborate with each other at the start of each MOOC, when participants virtually introduce themselves; and also their willingness to apply the knowledge and insights to their own development context. It is palpable and earnest. 

The screenshot below gives a glimpse of the wide reach of the Financing for Development MOOC in just one part of the world.  Such  diverse participants who are invited to read and then comment on topics each week has created a lively discussion space that attracts experiences and points of view from all parts of society—from professionals working in NGOs, to finance, aid agencies, to educators and students, as well as entrepreneurs. 

Why are MOOCs significant? MOOCs bridge a vital gap between the vast body of knowledge created by well researched publications from the WBG and the kinds of accessible learning that many global citizens are interested in acquiring.  For example, close to $500 million is spent annually on various reports and analytical pieces, such as the World Development Report, various sectoral flagship reports and country specific reports, but barely 5 % gets translated into learning material that a regular citizen would be in a position to absorb and apply. 
MOOCs have also democratized learning because the course design includes content presentation simple enough for a non-specialist to understand, while also providing links to cases and further readings for development practitioners interested in taking ‘deep dives’ on topics of technical interest.  More importantly, discussion boards, Google Hangouts, and virtual communities of practice enrich the learning and knowledge deepening process in which course instructors, guest speakers and course participants all contribute.
MOOCs are living repositories of knowledge. After the delivery of each MOOC, the content  is enriched through these interactive process, and the MOOCs end up creating knowledge repositories that are available online for a whole year – knowledge that had been initially generated by featured experts who presented in videos, reports and resources, but enriched by community generated knowledge through discussion boards and online peer groups.
For example, in our most recent MOOC on citizen engagement, one of our participants introduced us to CityBugs, an Armenian platform she has co-developed, with deceptively simple technology that allows citizens to report issues to the Mayor’s office, such as garbage removal, traffic issues. It is hard to think of a better example of giving form to the knowledge gleaned from the course itself. Engaging with citizens in public governance, engaging in public works, allowing funds to flow freely, all the hallmarks of citizen engagement and all done through a relatively simple technology. A participant from India chimed in who has been working on an online tool to track spending of public finances, post complaints on civic uses, and engage with local authorities. Evidence of impact, evidence of practitioners helping practitioners. The discussion on the course boards was palpable and invigorating; who knows how many similar projects were dreamt of in that moment?         

So where do we go from here? We continue to seek learning impact on development needs, we expand further into languages beyond English, and we can keep searching for these stories, these discussions and exchanges that demonstrate that these courses mean something to a lot of people. So we encourage you to join our three upcoming MOOCs: 


Sheila Jagannathan

Head of the Open Learning Campus at the World Bank

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