Are MOOCs relevant to developing countries?

MOOCs can provide new opportunities to extend the reach of institutions, and many institutions are experimenting with the MOOC format to increase their visibility to learners worldwide. They have the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty and to provide substantial intellectual resources to address pressing global issues.

MOOCs for development (MOOC4D) are MOOCs oriented towards learners with modest exposure to online practices. MOOC4D focus on topics and issues that have near-term impact in the context of sustainable development, and they remove entry barriers so that developing-country academics and institutions can offer large-scale online courses.

MOOC4D offerings include technology options that work within low bandwidth scenarios in developing countries and provide offline-learning possibilities that are not unduly affected by local network conditions. With partners in Africa and Asia, the Commonwealth of Learning has offered six such courses in 2013–2015. These have been evaluated by external experts as well as learners and have received excellent reviews.

In developing countries, MOOCs offer a new way of providing cost-effective, structured guidance and information around socially critical topics such as health, education and political governance, as well as others with similar social relevance.

Furthermore, MOOCs offer a way of connecting with a portion of a community or country, and so can be used for research, for the assessment of opinions or policy, and for the collection and preservation of local or indigenous knowledge.

For learners with Internet access who are situated in a small state of the Commonwealth, learning opportunities provided by institutions at a distance are becoming increasingly available. Online learning is possible for personal growth or to provide skills for employment. Self-directed study can also be provided at individual and collective levels. The Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth could provide regionally based platforms for MOOCs or online exam systems to address non-formal training for personal or skills development in workplaces, or for credit-based academic upgrading or credential-based programmes of study for those pursuing an academic pathway.

MOOCs can provide small businesses or national enterprises with courses designed to upgrade the skills of managers and line supervisors, especially in the service sector, where short courses focused on single topics can deliver immediate or situation-relevant learning in the workplace. MOOCs can also help in the continuing education of government staff in specific subject areas, and in the event of changes in policies and practices within government departments or agencies. A MOOC format has the potential to provide verifiable course delivery to all staff.

While wholly technical solutions for training, certification and accreditation might not be feasible in the immediate term, the management of certification using large-scale technical systems might be a solution for specific cases. As an example, Nigeria used a biometric identification system with 1.4 million students in March 2015 to administer computer-based tests at exam centres across the country (Fatunde, 2015):

The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board or JAMB, the sole agency mandated to conduct entrance examinations for universities in Nigeria, has held its first computer-based tests for more than 1.4 million candidates at some 400 information and communications technology, or ICT, centres countrywide.
The new online exam is a revolutionary departure from the paper-pencil test and dual-based test of before. Of course, the innovation was introduced with some glitches as well as advantages, but Nigerians have by and large accepted the computer-based exam.


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A Policy Brief on MOOCs by Commonwealth of Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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