Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) exploded in popularity in 2013. With the ease of enrollment (I myself have registered for one) and low costs, some MOOCs have drawn more than 160,000 participants from around the world. For countries with mushrooming populations like India, MOOCs offer much promise. India has a gross university enrollment rate (GER) of only 18% and a youth population of 234 million. Tasked with increasing enrollment rates to 30% by 2020, MOOCs can provide the seats that India needs. But as with any new technology, the government and universities are exploring how to best implement and blend MOOCs with existing models.
What are India’s main HigherEd challenges?
The Indian government is focusing on expansion, equity and excellence in higher education for the next few years. India will need 14 million seats in 5 years to meet its GER goals. Considering this, one can easily decide that brick and mortar schools will not be the primary solution. Quality of education has slipped severely over time due to lack of regulation and scarcity of instructors. Although private universities have helped increase seats, some institutions have only focused on graduating the most students possible.
So what’s the deal with MOOCs?
MOOCs typically have one instructor who teaches thousands of students across the world. While enrollment rates are high, the same can’t be said of completion rates, which are typically less than 10%. The main difficulty with MOOCs is providing certificates after completion. Completion rates lie at about 26% for classes that have some type of certification, showing that certificates do motivate student to pass and complete courses.
Research has shown that students who do complete the courses are generally not motivated by affordability. Also, most MOOC participants already have a bachelors or masters degree. This cannot be easily explained but it does show that those who cannot afford higher education do not have access to MOOCs or are uninterested.
How are MOOCs currently being used in India?
India has the second highest user population, at around 12%. A number of Indian universities have launched their own MOOCs, often in collaboration with American universities. The government announced its own platform called Swayam. Using the openEdx platform, students can take the courses for free and only pay for the certificate of completion. Another interesting initiative is Skill Up India. The platform features classes ranging from emergency first response to entrepreneurial skills. As the name denotes, the mission is to improve the employability and entrepreneurial abilities of Indian youth.
Can MOOCs Improve India’s Higher Education?
Universities have struggled to balance the relationship between quality and quantity. MOOCs can provide a transparent and measurable quality at large scale. A comparative study at MIT showed that MOOC students learned a tad bit more than traditional student. Blended instruction was the most beneficial to students. Certain science classes have incorporated labs and this can be utilized in all fields. MOOCs, similar to Skill Up India, might be promising to post graduates who would like to improve their employability or entrepreneurial toolkit.
Equity is an important piece with Indian higher education goals. MOOCs have the promise of providing education to those outside the brick and mortar; however, they currently aren’t reaching that demographic. With Internet access at around 20%, increasing Internet access will increase the availability of MOOCs to the wider population.
Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs