With a massive increase in internet penetration rates across the world, an average global citizen is getting more and more immersed into the great big online ecosystem. There is a perpetual debate on how communities are changing due to the advent of the internet into their societies and homes, but the advantages provided by having access to eons of information at one’s fingertips, literally a click away, cannot be disputed. With hardware systems getting cheaper, more and more rural homes even in the most underdeveloped of regions now have some form of connectivity.
One massive opportunity that has come with this is online courses and trainings. In the offline world, there is a wide divide between the quality of education being offered to developed regions versus the underdeveloped, and between urban centers and rural areas. The online education industry aims to bridge this divide by offering internet based courses to anyone who has the inclination, basic internet connectivity, and the fee, if any, for the course. MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Courses) are delivered through video lectures and accompanying student notes in the form of Powerpoint slides and subtitles, and are being offered in a plethora of subjects. They are being created by professors and teachers from the top most universities and colleges, including Stanford, MIT and more, and being offered directly by universities as well as third party platforms such as Coursera and Khan Academy.
The fee for these courses is usually much more affordable to a wider demographic than the fee they would be paying if they were attending an offline class. Offline courses may involve relocating, which comes with an attached price tag, as well as cultural and potential family issues for some students. Offline courses also have additional barriers to entry like the age of the potential student. In online education system, age becomes the answer to a single field in an application form, and is often never addressed again, with the course being ‘attended’ by people from a vast variety of backgrounds and demographics.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are a phenomenal venue to deliver tertiary level education to the most far-flung and remote of regions, not just in terms of geography but also the level of development. Even in countries and regions where there are many colleges and universities, the quality of the education being delivered cannot compete or compare with the global leaders in those fields, and MOOCs give access to the knowledge base of the latter. By offering certificates at the end of the courses, the MOOCs also allow ‘graduating’ students to chart their road to upward mobility by citing these courses in job applications and interviews.
The arguments against the use of MOOCs include the lack of localization of the knowledge being imparted – a teacher in a physical classroom has more contextual knowledge to play around with, and will present information understanding the absorption capacity as well as the cultural norms and societal values of each individual student in the room, as well as the requirements of that particular geographic region. MOOCs don’t allow for such customization. There is also opposition on the basis of the lack of human interaction and collaborative learning. However, beyond the negative aspects of MOOCs, the fact still remains that for many potential students in rural regions and underdeveloped areas globally, MOOCs offer a major opportunity for upward mobility and access to a high quality of tertiary education, which is not affordable for them otherwise.