MOOCs in Developing Nations: Over-hyped But Under-appreciated
1. The Infrastructure Gap
2. Non-Formal Education
3. Gender Gap
Again, MOOCs are creating a wonderful opportunity for women to self-educate and enabling a private, flexible option for this. There are many benefits, including the fact that these women are often not ready to go out to study. However, we are talking about a small segment still: Those who have enough internet access and leisure time (which is a big issue for women with Child Rearing and Home-related responsibilities than the men would like to think, given that an average Indian man will spend only 16 minutes a day doing any housework); and indeed, who are fluent in English, foreign language proficiency being a bigger challenge among women than men. Given all these pre-qualifications, it is unlikely that MOOCs will really bridge gender gap in Education, though it may help to raise women's level of education and have a generational effect over longer term (as educated mothers usually tend to have greater influence on the educational achievements of their sons and daughters than educated fathers).
4. The Role of the Teacher
MOOCs may be enabling the possibility of the teacher to be a curator, but there are enormous cultural influences to battle with before the transformation is significant in developing country classrooms. In most developing country (as indeed in developed world), Higher Education is an extension of the power structure of the society, indeed a mechanism to induct students into their proper social roles. The relationships - between teacher and the students, but also between the students and the institution, with knowledge and study - are shaped in the context. The teacher being a curator may need to play out in this context, and may not be appreciated by the learners at all. I have found my learners, often from developing countries, completely disengaged when I used a TED video or something similar, because they did not accept this as a part of the teaching activity. Besides, an English video or material sometimes heighten, rather than flatten, the power structure within the classroom, and I have watched teachers telling off students who did not follow the accent and presentation of the curated materials as a way of asserting their own position. The question of MOOCs transforming the teaching role, even where they are being adopted formally in the curricula, remains a more complex issue than what is being claimed.
5. Local Context
The institutional adaptation of MOOCs in developing countries are often done within the context of its existing curriculum, and in some cases, the contextualisation goes up to changing video materials (with or without appropriate permissions). In such contexts, quality and consistency may be bigger issues than the local perspective. I would tend to think that the local perspective is usually abundantly provided by classroom teaching in most cases, and the MOOCs should provide a welcome break and a window to the world. One may argue that such global perspective may come with the possibility of spreading neo-colonialism, but MOOCs can only do limited harm, being self-professedly Western in most cases. One would like to see more open education efforts from developing countries, but this is perhaps constrained, in equal measure, by financial constraints (an easy problem) and by cultural expectation of what education is about (as discussed in the previous section).
One would hope that a reflective discussion on such issues will temper the MOOC triumphalism but also help put MOOCs in proper context. Only such discussion may help us avoid the bubble and reap the enormous benefits that MOOCs can bring.