By Ezethu Mandlelize
Blended learning is the new buzz word gaining traction in the Evaluation Capacity Development (ECD) sector, conjoining the best of both classroom and eLearning methods. It is appealing to a far broader range of learners engaging varied learning styles, circumstances, needs and demands. It combines the support of classroom learning with the flexibility of eLearning. A number of benefits have been cited, in the main, that it is less time consuming, cost effective, greater learner engagement and it uses a combination of creative digital media channels. But, here’s the thing, through my personal experience in managing and delivering a CLEAR-AA MOOC that reached over 8000 online learners, on Results Based Management (RBM), I’ve decided to share with you, the reader, my personal experiences why MOOCs may not always receive the expected attention it deserves.
Wits has become the first university in Africa to offer MOOCs on edX, an online learning platform established by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. The initiative is a response to the dire need for increased placement at South African universities and for access to quality post-school training. The Wits Vice-Chancellor touted our achievement as “a pioneering, innovative project that is unlocking new opportunities for South African universities.” The MOOC is an introductory RBM course targeted at public and development sector practitioners to design and implement results-based, public sector programmes that optimise the use of resources.
Despite the extensive critique MOOCs have received since they first appeared back in 2008, they are without a doubt the latest trend in online learning and they are here to stay. B
Some considerations, before launching the MOOC, that one has to be cognisant of are:
Very low completion rates:
My experience shows that MOOC completion rates are extremely low as learner participation seem to start dropping from the very first week of attendance. This high attrition rate may to some extent be attributed to lack of interaction or to the fact that completion is not important or compulsory. I would also attribute this to the fact that MOOCs are offered to the public for free and this may attract learners who simply want to give it a try. This means that there is a cadre of learners who were not initially interested in the subject matter or committed to complete the MOOC course. it may be safe to conclude that low completion rates have less to do with the quality and content of MOOC courses, or the degree of satisfaction online learners may experience.
Low perceived value as compared to a University Degree.
Another major reason why MOOCs are not so widespread could be because they appear to be “competitive” to university attendance. MOOCs provide everyone the opportunity to access academic material and even obtain an online qualification, which may raise a series of questions, such as the future of instructor-led classroom learning and the real value of university qualifications earned online as compared to those physically earned at a college or university campus. The course itself is likely to raise demand for postgraduate and graduate programs with a specialization in M&E. But I believe that this perception may be changed through promoting MOOCs under the concept of lifelong learning.
From an instructor’s and organizational point of view, managing a MOOC requires extensive time, money, effort and devotion to building a new MOOC course. Because the course was offered internationally, the time differences presented a real problem to me as a curator of the course, so the provision of online commentary and or building a possible community of practice meant that for those learners requiring an immediate response, this was impossible.
Smaller institutions may not have the resources to develop MOOCs or the international reputation to “market” these courses as we did as an M&E specialist Centre within a reputable institution such as Wits University.
MOOCs have reached a great potential in the US. The biggest challenge seems to be to extend this phenomenon globally, especially in Africa. One way of catalysing its potential on the African continent, I believe is by localizing original MOOC coursework, in order to offer it in languages other than English.
Despite the challenges experienced in the presentation of our first MOOC, I do believe that MOOCs are still one of the best choices to extend the limited horizons of your online class and will help you address a bigger audience. Apart from the obvious benefits of open content, free of charge registration, MOOCs are cost effective over the long run and have proved to be a great asset for recruiters in the corporate sector. Observing the attendance list of MOOC courses has become a habit for many HR managers, as it is a good indicator that a prospective candidate or a new employee is self-motivated, and willing to achieve self-development and personal growth through self-learning. Institutions in Africa should consider developing and launching MOOCs especially in the M&E field where technical capacity constraints remain a major challenge that we confront.