E-Learning in Africa: Massive, online and free

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Wednesday, 11 September 2013 14:01

Imagine if instead of paying to attend a university, you could watch lectures, access reading material and interact with other students, all online and for free.

This is the idea of a massively open online course (MOOC).

It is a buzzword in universities and business schools across the world, and African universities and academics are considering how to open up their courses for free online.

The African Management Initiative (AMI) has developed Africa’s first MOOC, aimed at providing courses in basic management skills.

Launchpad, a pilot involving several hundred people launched in late June in partnership with South Africa’s Gordon Institute of Business Science.

The AMI will look for funds to develop courses in partnership with Lagos Business School in Nigeria and Strathmore Business School in Nairobi, Kenya.

“We want to make it as engaging as possible, but also low bandwidth,” says Rebecca Harrison, who is developing the MOOC at AMI.

A report published in May and released at the 2013 eLearning Africa conference in Namibia found that 9 percent of the more than 400 academics surveyed thought the rise of MOOCs would be one of the major changes in e-learning in Africa.

Igor Lesko, open education specialist at the Open Course-Ware Consortium in South Africa, says they are particularly relevant for cash-strapped universities.

“They need to look for new ways of doing business. If you do get thousands of people interested and if you charge specific fees for examination or assessment, this could be quite a lucrative revenue stream,” he says.

He points to the success of Brazil’s FGV Online, which provided 1.4m courses from 2008 to May 2011.

As developing courses can be costly, Lesko thinks the key to keeping costs down will be to leverage existing open content into MOOCs.

Neil Butcher, open educational resources (OER) strategist at OER Africa, says MOOCs give institutions the potential to “free themselves from that model and to start creating educational systems that seek to achieve different goals.”

He suggests universities stop competing with each other on content and construct a shared model of content across universities. ●

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