Massively Open Online Education

In 2012, Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC) are beginning to disrupt higher education worldwide while generating their own controversies and hype. Recently, Communications of the ACM carried articles on MOOC in their November and December issues, discussing this phenomenon and its implications for the future of education and of universities and institutes. The primary reason for this potential for disruption is  the sudden surge in the platform space -  Coursera incubated by Stanford Professors Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng;  edX co-developed by MIT and Harvard; Udacity co-founded by Stephen Thrun, Professor at Stanford,  for offering courses online. A second reason is the surge in the top U.S. universities including Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan and Princeton offering their star courses through these platforms. We cannot of course ignore the enormous attention generated by the Khan Academy. A third reason is the ubiquity of the broadband Internet that has touched emerging countries such as India.

It is also important to note that the Government of India has recognised this potential early and has launched the National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). This is an initiative of the Ministry of HRD that has funded the development of a large number of courses that are available on YouTube and the Web. The effort is coordinated by all the major IITs and IISc.

The most popular MOOC so far is “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence” offered by Google’s Director of Research – Peter Norvig and Google’s Vice President and Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun on Coursera which saw an enrollment of 160,000 students out of which 23,000 successfully passed the course. One third of the students who take some of these popular courses are from India and Brazil. At this time the business and monetization models are yet to evolve; the assessment methods are not fool proof; value of the certifications is still unclear. Nevertheless, it is clear that here is technology disruption that is about to change the way in which traditionally courses are taught at colleges and universities.

Apart from courses, it is to be noted that Connexions – that once pioneered open on-line books platform hosted by the Rice University in the US, is touching major academic publishers such as Elsevier and Springer. Most of the publishers now offer to the authors, the option of making their scholarly articles in “open access” form, cost of which are usually borne by the authors.

Increasing adoption of Smartphones and Tablets, broadband at last becoming a reality even in emerging markets, have opened up the scope of offering MOOC through mobile devices. Though native iPhone/ iPad/ Android apps are yet to come out for any of the above mentioned MOOC platforms, they are accessible through the Web anyway even on the move.

However, at this point most of all the above efforts are funded by educational foundations and the government. How does this evolve in to a sustainable business proposition – a true win-win for institutions, faculty, students, and the platform provider? In his article Moshe Yarde, editor-in-chief of the Communications of the ACM questioned the wisdom of higher educational institutions in the US, giving their valuable content for free when the highest one after mortgages, to the tune of $1 trillion student debt is threatening the very existence of these. What are the implications? How should institutions and publishers change their modus operandi to adjust to this paradigm shift in education? Apart from technical and engineering courses, are there any India specific content that is amenable for MOOC? How is the ecosystem in India for making MOOC viable and sustainable? Who are the target audience – professionals wanting to do continuing education or certificate seeking students who were not able to get in to top institutions? How is this space panning out for mobile entrepreneurs, especially in India where mobile is the way to get on to the Internet and to MOOC?

For more of these, hear from experts at Mobile India 2013 on 9th January 2013 at the Chancery Pavillion in Bangalore. For registrations, click here.


Dr. V. Sridhar, Sasken Communication Technologies and Professor &

Dr. D. Manjunath, IIT Bombay


Updates from around the world