Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have caught the attention of leaders in education, as well as the media, business and the public.
MOOCs offered by advanced research universities such as MIT (edX) and Stanford (Coursera) are well publicised. The UK Open University leads the FutureLearn project, which is the only MOOC initiative led by a single-mode open and distance learning institution anywhere.
The Commonwealth of Learning, keen to explore the relevance of MOOCs in learning for development, partnered with the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IIT Kanpur) – a well-known research university that has pioneered applications of mobile technologies in rural development. COL and IIT Kanpur launched a six-week MOOC on Mobiles for Development (M4D) in early October.
COL emphasises the importance of separating MOOC brands from the technology platforms; the latter can be used by teaching organisations, as COL and IIT Kanpur have done, while the former usually come with restrictions that protect and identify the brand.
M4D was a wholly online course that was free and open to any learner anywhere. It was offered in English and did not have any prerequisites. Participants used the Internet to read text documents, view presentation slides and watch videos.
This course attracted 2,255 registrants from 115 countries. Of these, about 25 per cent were women. Grenada, India, Mauritius, Nepal and South Africa were the top five sources of participants, with Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania coming next. Other Commonwealth countries – including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK – accounted for another 500.
About two-thirds of the participants were regularly visiting the online classes, and intensive peer-to-peer and peer-mentor discussions online showed a good level of commitment.
Participants also developed innovative ideas for enhanced functionalities in mobile communication for learning, such as basic “missed call” notifications.
Learners were expected to invest about four to five hours per week over the six-week period. Those visiting and viewing at least 80 per cent of all core material received participation certificates, jointly signed by IIT Kanpur and COL. Those who fulfilled participation requirements and passed an online examination at the end received competence certificates.
IIT Kanpur managed the course and the online classes using Sakai, an open-source application, and several faculty members were invited speakers.
COL sourced the content for mLearning and the use of mobiles in rural credit and financial inclusion. IIT Kanpur covered mobiles in agriculture. All of the learning materials have now been released online as open educational resources (OER).
The course was led by Professor T. V. Prabhakar of IIT Kanpur and a COL team that included Dr. V. Balaji, Dr. Abdurrahman Umar, Dr. K. Balasubramanian and Mr. Ricky Cheng.