MOOCs and Human Capital Development
Can They Fill the Gap in Africa?
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) originated with a small circle of Canadian educational researchers (Siemens, Couros, Downes) as a way of engaging the broader community in their course offerings. MOOCs have now spread beyond North
America to Western Europe, Brazil, India and Africa with enrolments across the world.
The openness espoused by MOOCs is relative and often limited to online access. In some cases content is not available at the end of the course and not published as Open Education Resources (OER). Most MOOCs are offered only in English, require high bandwidth, and are de-contextualized for geographically dispersed learners. Whereas some disciplines are easily transferable such as computer programming, only a fraction of courses transcend cultural or linguistic lines. Completion rates are as low as 10 per cent and most learners already have university degrees. Above all, perhaps the biggest challenge to MOOC providers is sustainability.
In most countries there is an unmet demand for higher education. In addition to continuing education which is the current focus of MOOCs, massive enrollment is required in university education, technical and vocational education. Massive Open Online Programs (MOOPs), in combination with MOOCs, are essential to meet the demand.
Human Capital Development in Africa
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 6 to 7 per cent of school leavers access higher education, a percentage that is too low for sustainable economic development. Although universities are expanding, and new universities established including online ones, supply remains inadequate and excludes school dropouts and workers in the informal sector. The training of human capital presents even more challenges in conflict, post conflict, and isolated countries.
MOOCs and their Potential for Africa
MOOCs have the ability to improve skills, knowledge, and have the potential to deliver a meaningful impact on the African continent. The following recommendations may help unlock this potential:
- Utilise MOOC concept for continuing education for professionals, drop outs, and informal sector workforce, and MOOPs for university, technical and vocational education
- Integrate mobile devices into the design of MOOCs and MOOPs
- Utilize low bandwidth, short videos
- Have strong local MOOC providers develop local content and partner with MOOC providers in USA, Europe or India; and publish content as OER
- Involve governments, private sector and other stakeholders for funding
- Build partnership and alliances with not-for-profit organisations such as the Commonwealth of Learning, UNESCO and the Open Education Consortium
- Undertake research and development on local context
In conclusion it is encouraging to see African MOOC providers emerge in 2015. The African Virtual University (AVU) conducted a feasibility study funded by the African Development Bank to inform its strategy, and has partnered with the Commonwealth
of Learning (COL) to deliver its first MOOC on ICTs for Teaching and Learning (https://moocs.avu.org). The MOOC was launched on 16 March 2015, and the content has been published as OER. The AVU will soon launch its second MOOC “An Overview of Peace Management and Conflict Resolution (PMCR)” in partnership with the African Development Bank and 27 universities from 21 countries. This is an important step in designing MOOCs responsive to local context. Also, the University of Cape Town in South Africa, in collaboration with Futurelearn, is offering a number of MOOCs in diverse fields. In conclusion, although a number of African learners are taking MOOCs from external providers, the demand remains unmet. It is essential to explore how MOOCs can serve to provide education to the millions that Africa needs to develop its human capital.