A partnership between the US government and Coursera will expand MOOCs to dozens of countries.

MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses — have served North Americans since at least 2008. Now the free distance learning phenomenon is going global in a big way: The State Department’s MOOC Camp Initiative has partnered with Coursera, a leader in distance learning technology, to bring MOOCs to 30 countries — including many that lack widespread reliable Internet access. The University of Trinidad and Tobago, LEARN and other institutions are also partners in the project announced on October 30.

The first 30 learning hubs are planned for Baghdad, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Chennai, Hanoi, Helsinki, Juba, Kyiv, La Paz, Lima, Manila, Mountain View, Phnom Penh, Port au Prince, Port Louis, Prague, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Tbilisi, Kakamega, Moscow, Mumbai, and Port of Spain. From Coursera.org

New Social Component to MOOCs

Until now, MOOCs have been mostly digital; in-person communication wasn’t built into the learning model. The new partnership between Coursera and the US government will add a face-to-face social component with free “learning hubs.” These physical locations will 1) provide stable Internet connections and 2) supplement the MOOCs with in-person discussions. Typical hosts will be universities and embassies.

Coursera will collect data to analyze learning outcomes from the new setup. It’s expected that the social component of learning will enhance students’ engagement and understanding.

Inspired by Real-Life Community Organizing

The learning hubs project is the brainchild of Yin Lu, Coursera’s head of growth and international strategy. She was inspired by a group of Ohio women, mostly unemployed, who banded together to take an online course in business strategy. The group met at a community center to take their lessons from the University of Virginia. More than 60% completed the distance learning course and two landed jobs in marketing. An enthusiastic letter from the group brought the effort to Lu’s attention.

Five MOOC Facts

  1. Radio offered precursors to MOOCs from the 1920s to the 1940s. New York University, Harvard, Columbia and other top schools would broadcast lectures and let people take tests at home. The programs petered out because completion rates were low and cheating was difficult to detect.
  2. In 2003 the radio organization Hello China launched a “new media” venture to teach business courses to 4 million Chinese students via the radio, web and mobile phone.
  3. The MOOC acronym was coined in 2008 when about 2000 non-paying students took an online course from the University of Manitoba.
  4. When Stanford University launched its first MOOC in 2011, enrollment quickly reached 160,000.
  5. The New York Times dubbed 2012 “The Year of the MOOC.”
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