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sfs talk by Prof. Maria Garrido from Washington University: Advancing Massive Open Online Courses for Development Initiative (AMDI)

An examination of MOOC usage for professional workforce development outcomes in Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa.
The potential of online learning has long afforded the hope of providing quality education to anyone, anywhere in the world. The recent development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) heralded an exciting new break through by providing free academic instruction and professional skills development from the world’s leading universities to anyone with the sufficient resources to access the internet. Against this backdrop, Maria Garrido, a visiting foreign researcher at SFS, discussed during this research conversation the findings of her most recent study on MOOC usage by young people in Colombia, the Philippines and South Africa.



May 10th, 2016

Drawing on the experiences of 1,400 MOOC users and 2,254 non-users between the age of 18-35 in the three countries, she presented the MOOC landscape in these developing settings teasing out the demographic profile of young people that engage in these environments, their motivations, the perceived benefits of the skills gained for professional development, and the opportunities and challenges to increase youth participation in this form of learning to better their employment opportunities.


She began the conversation by describing some of the defining characteristics of MOOCs and how they differ from other forms of online learning. Aside from the obvious building blocks assigned to their name (Massive, Open, and Online), Maria explained that there exists wide spread confusion about what makes these learning spaces unique. The most prominent feature of MOOCs that distinguishes them from other online learning spaces is its technological platform that allows a high number of people to participate and interact. Under this view, MOOCs could actually be categorized as an ICT-enabled social innovation. But regardless of this unique trait, Maria argued, it is uncertain the extent to which young people that participate in MOOCs and government agencies evaluating its integration into education and employment policies actually identify these learning spaces and fully understand the potential of this form of online learning to advance professional development for youth. This, she explained, has significant methodological implications for future research on MOOCs and also could impact the development of public policy.


Maria continued with a discussion of some of the key findings of the study. The most surprising finding is that different from users in developed countries which tend to be highly educated and mostly men, MOOC users in the three countries studies come from diverse income and educational backgrounds. They fall predominantly in low and middle-income categories and have varying degrees of educational attainment. This important finding could incentive governments to take steps to integrating MOOCs into workforce development and educational initiatives.  Additionally, she explained, contrary to commonly-held beliefs, the major impediment to participate in this environments is slow internet not the ICT skill levels of young MOOC users. The findings revealed that users in these countries have mostly basic or intermediate ICT skills.


She also discussed the importance of these learning spaces as viable channels to expand training opportunities for women to gain skills and improve their competitiveness in the labor market, specially in jobs and industries where women are underrepresented. The study revealed that female MOOC users are already taking advantage of these online learning platforms and they achieve higher completion and certification rate than men. Over a third of these women have taken courses in computer sciences, and business management & leadership areas where women tend to be underrepresented. Furthermore, she added, across the three countries but particularly in South Africa, a significant proportion of women MOOC users come from low-income backgrounds highlighting once again that income level is not an impediment for them to gain skills through these learning platforms.


The conversation ended with a very interesting discussion with the audience about the importance of partnerships among universities, government agencies, and telecenters and libraries around the provision of MOOCs to more marginalized communities in regions of the world. The importance of enabling a social space where young people can participate in MOOCs while taking advantage of the dynamics of peer-to-peer learning and support of intermediaries navigating a course journey. 


The full report and summary for the study can be found here.



Maria Garrido is Research Assistant Professor, Technology & Social Change Group at the Information School of Washington University, USA. She is visiting researcher at sfs April-July 2016. More on Maria Garrido...