Exporting Online Education

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American MOOCs are in high demand abroad:

Sixty-eight percent of Coursera’s users come from outside the United States, with India, China, Brazil, and Mexico all in the top 10. In these countries, enrollment in tertiary education is growing by leaps and bounds. Public systems aren’t equal to the demand, and private for-profit options are seen as offering a subpar product.

Anya Kamenetz worries that MOOCs will steamroll local universities:

For example, Kepler, a U.S.-based endeavor, announced its intention to offer an education superior to any available at a Rwandan university for a lower cost. This may benefit a small group of Rwandans in the short term, but it does not assist President Paul Kagame’s struggle to improve education and technology in that country over the long term. It’s easy to imagine a future in which the educational equivalent of reruns of Baywatch – a limited menu of glossy American fare – comes to dominate the cultural landscape in developing countries around the world, making it more difficult for cash-starved universities in those countries to pursue scholarship relevant to local contexts.

Update from a reader:

I’m a long-time reader and cofounder of Kepler, which Kamenetz referenced in her Slate article about the negative impact of MOOCs in Africa. Rwanda’s Ministry of Education has been tremendously supportive of Kepler so far, since they’re curious to know whether a model like ours – online courses, in-person seminars led by Teaching Fellows, job training – can lower cost and improve outcomes within their own university system. African universities are already struggling with low graduation and employment rates, and thanks to the coming, uh, youth bulge, demand is going to increase faster than anywhere else in the world. So while MOOCs aren’t the entire solution, online content is going to be part of any scalable solution. Traditional higher ed is just way too expensive to accommodate exploding demand across Africa. Most governments realize this and are looking at projects like Kepler for innovative solutions.

Previous Dish on massive open online courses here.