By Anya Kamenetz
Though the modern massive open online course movement (MOOCs) originated in North America, two-thirds of their users live abroad – in places like Rwanda, China and Brazil.
Foreign users are adapting the courses produced at Harvard, MIT and Stanford to fit their local communities and cultures. And in the process, they’re creating an entirely new education model. Instead of toiling at MOOCs alone with the dim light of a laptop, communities around the world are combining screen time with face time. In these small-group, informal, blended-learning environments, students work with the support of peers and mentors and compete online on a level playing field with the new elite of the world. “It gave me a taste of what is first world education,” said Alejandra B., a 21-year-old studying business at a Catholic university in La Paz, Bolivia and a MOOC participant in such a setting, told me.
And that brings us back to the United States, where student loan debt has topped $1.2 trillion. Bill Gates, for one, has endorsed the notion that MOOCs be adopted as a way of enhancing the curriculum at cash-strapped community colleges, and ten US state university systems have announced that they will be using the Coursera platform to share resources among their institutions. But what we haven’t seen so far is a lightweight, ultra-low-cost model that combines in-person mentoring and support with digital educational materials created at elite institutions. Is it time to re-import an educational model from Bangalore back home to Buffalo?
The model suggested at the end of the article sounds like the hybrid approach that seems to be the compromise (adding to face-to-face traditional courses; incorporating the best aspects of online technology) that is emerging from the MOOC “revolution” (i.e., for courses, not content).