Quoted: questioning the effectiveness of MOOCs

“We can’t just throw this up on the Web and assume goodness will happen.”

Ezekiel Emanuel, vice provost for Global Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania. The university surveyed about 35,000 people in 200 countries and found that those taking courses from Coursera, a MOOC (massive open online courses) provider, were mostly already well-educated.

Silicon Valley-based Coursera, which has partnerships with universities such as Stanford and Princeton and offers courses for free, says on its website that it “envisions a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few.”

But Emanuel says the poor need access to technology before they can take advantage of the offerings of Coursera and other MOOC providers. “If you are privileged you already have access to computers. The ‘have-nots’ are not going to have access to this,” Emanuel told Bloomberg. “For the moment, MOOCs are likely to increase disparities in-country.”

Among the July survey’s findings: In Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, almost 80 percent of those taking the courses were among those countries’ top 6 percent — the wealthiest and most educated of the population.

How to address the access issue? Coursera’s partnership with the U.S. government, announced last month, looks to be a first step: They will create “learning hubs” around the world that will offer Internet access, as well as local teachers or facilitators, according to the New York Times. 


At top, a screen grab of Coursera website’s home page


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  • xxx4

    MOOCs are great! Better at the social sciences, never have been able to complete one on data mining. But they are fun and stimulating!