Why Are MOOCs Thriving in Asia?

Today the internet is ubiquitous in our lives, but it started as an educational tool mainly used in academia. Is it time for universities to make history once again, and use technology to teach the world a lesson?

hese are days of miracle and wonder for e-learning. Coursera and Edx recently made headlines as the online education providers that brought courses from top universities to millions of people around the world.

Coursera’s classes come from 16 universities, among them Duke, Princeton, University of Edinburgh and EPFL, while Edx has UC Berkeley, MIT and Harvard on board. Udacity, a start-up specialising in computer science, is run by the formidable Sebastian Thrun, a pioneer of e-learning and the mastermind behind Google’s driverless car.

These innovative platforms offer online courses entirely free or for a fee of $100-$150, in some cases even awarding certificates of completion or credit towards a degree by partnering universities. They are known as ‘MOOCs’ (Massive Open Online Courses),  pronounced like ‘nukes’, perhaps because they are nuclear weapons of mass education, with a global outreach that no bricks-and-mortar university can match.

Time for an Asian MOOC?

The emergence of MOOCs fits perfectly to current demographic trends in Asia. No Asian country has the resources needed to meet increasing demand for degrees. This is why the bulk of foreign students in the UK, US and Australia come from the Middle East and East Asia.

Around 5% of Coursera’s more than a million students come from India and 4% from China, according to data released in August. Not surprisingly, Udacity has a huge following in India, a country famous for its thriving IT industry. Some of the most successful ‘meetups’ for ‘Udacians’ have been held in Koyampattur and Bangalore.

Most MOOCs are US-based operations, although the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi is one of Coursera’s partners. Can Asian institutions take the big leap forward and break into this new market?

In Korea, universities have long established a common e-learning platform, the Korean Open Courseware (KOCW). According to Sooji Lee, a Senior Researcher at the Korea Education & Research Information Service who is in charge of KOCW, the wide penetration of ICT technology in the country – 2 out of 5 Koreans own a smartphone –  can be a springboard for the spread of e-learning.

Lee remarked that most Korean online learners come from the natural & applied sciences, because these are easier to break down into online modules, quizzes and assignments. She added that MIT OpenCourseWare has been very popular among Korean students, but Coursera and Udacity have yet to make a success in the country, perhaps because “Korean learners are not comfortable with the interactivity of MOOCs yet.”According to Lee, “the possibility of a MOOC set up by Korean universities has not been discussed actively yet, but we are keeping an eye on the trends.”

by Alex Katsomitros

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