Learning without limits: how MOOCS are connecting learners globally AND locally

Recently I bit the bullet and signed up for a MOOC.  I  am now dusting down my school level algebra to wrestle with an entertaining but too-statistical-for-my-liking 8 week course on “Model Thinking”.  Along with thousands of other students all over the world, I get the pleasure of 3 hours of lectures a week from a great lecturer at a well-respected university, access to reading lists, very active discussion boards and am regularly tested through quizzes and exams and all FOR FREE. 

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are such a brilliant idea, like the Open University but on a huge, huge scale.   And they hold the potential to transform how we think about and access education.

Today I went to a webinar by Yin Lu from Coursera talking about a new programme they are developing to support Learning Hubs.  She outlined Coursera’s vision:

“Connect people to a great education so anyone round the world can learn without limits”.
Pretty impressive.  She stressed that this latest initiative is about connecting people not only to an education but to each other, globally AND locally.

Responding to bottom up innovation
The idea came from ways in which people are already using Coursera content so it’s a bottom up innovation.  She gave a few examples.  One was of a group of unemployed 50 something women in a rural part of the USA.  One of the group, a former school teacher decided to facilitate her friends to take an MBA in Business studies, 6 out 10 completed it and 2 have gone on to get jobs.   Another example involved the hosts of the seminar “Digital Moscow” who hosted a discussion among students of a Coursera course who wanted to apply what they had learned in Moscow.  And finally the US State Department who had been opening up space in their embassies in 14 cities round the world to students on courses.

Coursera are now actively trying to support these local learning groups in the many different forms that they emerge.

Some points I took away from Yin Lu’s talk that were gratifying to hear rather than surprising were:

  • working in a group dramatically increases completion rates – in the examples it jumped from 7-10% (the MOOC standard apparently) to 60-70% 
  • often facilitators are people with a passionate commitment to the value of education, former teachers or people who have benefited from scholarships to go to university and want to put something back into their communities 
  • learning hubs can use space such as schools offices out of hours (eg evenings and weekends)
  • popular courses include those relating to entrepreneurship, teacher professional development and economics
  • people are finding creative ways of overcoming poor/no internet access – downloading lectures onto laptops, then travelling to areas of interenet connectivity to take exams, Coursera are keen to explore this.

One particularly striking observation, possibly a hypothesis, is that by connecting learners with high quality education and with each other in a local context will increase the chances of their learning turning into some kind of action in that local context.  “Turning knowledge into action for local communities” now there’s an ambition.