Will MOOCs Democratize Skills Development for All?

As this Economist essay points out, the global reach of online classes is expanding opportunity around the world, but, especially for those with both access to online education, and the ability to take lessons in English: http://www.economist.com/news/international/21568738-online-courses-are-transforming-higher-education-creating-new-opportunities-best.  So what does this mean?  On the one hand, MOOCs would appear to have the capacity to democratize learning and skills development for the poor and disenfranchised in the developed world; but what I fear is that this technological advancement will further widen the gap, at least in the near term, between those with and without the motivation -and computer access-  to learn online.

Online learning, as the article points out, has been around for a decade or more.  What is different now is the scale – and the numbers for classes being taught at our top tier universities are enormous.  But what will this mean in terms of advancing employability for those taking such online classes?  Will employers give equal weight to learning that occurs via MOOCs?  Will people taking MOOCs be able to leverage such courses to advance their careers?

MOOCs enrich education for rich-world students, especially the cash-strapped, and those dissatisfied with what their own colleges are offering. But for others, especially in poor countries, online education opens the door to yearned-for opportunities. One famous MOOC graduate is Khadijah Niazi, an 11-year-old girl in Lahore who completed Udacity’s Physics 100 class. Of the 155,000 people from five countries who registered for MIT’s prototype Circuits and Electronics course, only 45% were aged between 18 and 25. Most traffic came from five countries: America, India, Britain, Colombia and Spain. Some 7,200 students passed the course.

It’s definitely as trend to follow.  But I’m just not so sure that it will lead to the democratization of education.

2 Comments on “Will MOOCs Democratize Skills Development for All?

  1. A democratization of knowledge, perhaps, but not of education. We may also see depths of knowledge in specific areas (Physics, for example, to use the reference above) and we may see a breadth of knowledge as well as students read across disciplines.

    Demonstrating expertise or knowledge and skills sufficient to attract an employer will take some innovation from students and recruiters who must learn how to demonstrate learning beyond designated grades for a course.


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