UNISA has made distance learning a common practise in South Africa. It’s position is entrenched more so after the 2004 merger with Technikon RSA. The next evolution in distance learning beyond e-learning or computer-based training is Massive Open Online Courses or MOOC. This is made possible with the pervasiveness of broadband Internet. MOOC is a virtual delivery model that allows participation in learning activities at convenient places and times,rather than forcing students into set time frames; blended learning, which can facilitate widespread, often global collaboration with other students and teams of specialized instructors (Bujak,K,R, et al, 2012).
Recently we enrolled for three modules on Coursera.org after listing to Daphne Koller’s TED Talk. The initial appeal to using this platform was the flexible time schedules and immediate access via the Internet. We’ve already opted out of one and there was no real downside because there was no financial commitment in contrast to traditional universities.
Benefits for Teaching
E-learning has been around since the earliest stages of the Internet. It is well know the origins of this global inter-connected network began in the military and expanded quickly into academic research facilities in the US before becoming available to the general public in the 1990s. Expanding access to and the availability of e-learning programmes for students, teachers and government is an important step in furthering continental development and growth (Rupp, 2012).
Even though Rupp (2012) points out the availability of e-learning technologies provides expanded opportunities for countries in Africa to make education available to their whole population. Clearly these same information and communication technologies (ICTs) allow students from the rural or remote areas to access opportunities for scholarships to academic institutions they may not otherwise have identified.
Benefits for Learning
MOOC introduces students to a new type of experience called “Blended Learning” by Bujak,K,R, et al. (2012). It combines face-to-face interactions with communication enabled by ICTs. A key consideration is that ICTs compliment not replace traditional pedagogy. Whereas e-learning was online only experience, more blending the online and offline experience takes shape in self organised groups meeting similar to traditional self organised groups of students who attend the same campus, except this takes place even easier in the virtual world. Initial research suggests that students are not only accepting blended learning approaches, but also they are improving learning outcomes.
Two challenges reduce the adoption of MOOC. Firstly they do not lead to a widely recognized credentials and workable revenue models are not available at present (King, J.W. & Nanfito, M. 2012). Until both are addressed by institutions and investors in the platforms, MOOC, may be a blip on the radar and future of online learning solutions.
Even though MOOC have caused well established institutions from UCT in South Africa and MIT in United States to invest resources, clear impact in Africa continent remain limited. One segment that stands the most to gain, are people who do not gain entry to traditional universities for reasons financial or otherwise. Internet literacy will delay the adoption further among the rest of the population in Africa irrespective of the availability of broadband Internet. As with all technological innovations MOOC will take a number a few years before we know whether it is viable platform or not.
Bujak,K,R, Baker, P., & DeMillo, R. (2012) The University: Disruptive Change and Institutional Innovation Centre for 21st Century Universities. Paper number 22012. Available online: http://c21u.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/u21/C21U_22012__University.pdf [03 December 2012]
Rupp, S. (2012) Technology, e-learning and education in Africa. In Consultancy Africa Intelligence. Available online http://tinyurl.com/9dul5he [04 December 2012]
King, J.W. & Nanfito, M. (2012) To MOOC or Not to MOOC? Available online: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/11/29/essay-challenges-posed-moocs-liberal-arts-colleges [05 December 2012]
Koutropoulos, A. & Hogue, R.J. (2012). How to Succeed in a MOOC. Available online: http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter%20articles/eLearning%20Guild/How%20to%20Succeed%20in%20a%20MOOC%20-%20Massive%20Online%20Open%20Course%20(Oct%2012).pdf [05 December 2012]