Tuesday, September 3, 2013

MOOC limitations

We often hear claims that MOOCs will make top class higher education available to the whole world and that they will democratize higher education. This is true to some extent but a new article on E-learning Africa puts these ambitious claims into perspective: The underlying inequality of MOOCs. For many learners in the world the MOOCs are still inaccessible due to lack of infrastructure. Although there are numerous educational technology initiatives in developing countries the reality for most is that access to online learning is still a dream.

"There are a variety of mitigating factors that limit access to MOOCs, many of which are the same as those that also exclude disadvantaged groups from traditional educational models and stem from financial, geographical and educational disparity. In practical terms, sustained participation in a MOOC requires a set of resources and infrastructure that is a privilege, as many of us ... often forget. A reliable electricity supply, frequent and uninterrupted access to a device capable of going online and playing video and sound, and a secure, unrestricted Internet connection are essential starting blocks – as is a safe and comfortable space in which to learn."

Then there is the simple lack of time to study with long working days, family duties and chores that we in developed countries take for granted but that can take much longer to do in less developed countries. When you have to work 12 hours a day to keep going when do you have time to study? Our increasing interest in informal learning depends on us having significant leisure time to pursue such activities.

In addition to this is the fact that online learning requires advanced study skills, digital literacy and a high level of self-discipline that most people lack, even in affluent countries. The key to levelling the educational playing field is teaching people how to learn.

"A “basic level of education and the ability to study” spans everything from essential literacy and numeracy to self-motivation, being able to pursue independent research and practice of writing academic papers. Learners without these skills, let alone the foundation knowledge required to follow a university level course, will no doubt struggle to remain engaged."

Until these elements are in place the promise of open online learning (whatever acronym it goes under) will remain elusive for the vast majority. We have still a lot of work to do.

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