MOOCs Serving the Underserved

This post comes to courtesy of Kevin Raney. He blogs at “Listen, Learn, Design, Dream.” 

The current discussion surrounding MOOCs seems to focus more on the mechanics of education rather than the spirit of learning. For most, success is measured by a diploma or professional credentials. Underlying this entire discussion though is the assumption that everyone has access to basic education. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Many segments of society don’t have the same opportunity to receive a good education. The factors are numerous, including racial, gender, or class barriers. Can the power of MOOCs deliver an education to the disadvantaged? The movement to bring improved access to a basic education for everyone is growing. MOOCs may play a key role in doing just that.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Acumen Fund have been supporting this cause for years. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has four primary programs that focus on education:

  • Global Libraries Program

    • Goal: “Ensure that all people, especially those in disadvantaged communities around the world, have access to information through technology in public libraries.”

  • College Ready Education

    • Goal: “Support innovation that can improve U.S. K-12 public schools and ensure that students graduate from high school ready to succeed in college”

  • Postsecondary Success

    • Goal: “Ensure that all low-income young adults have affordable access to a quality postsecondary education that is tailored to their individual needs and educational goals and leads to timely completion of a degree or certificate with labor-market value”

  • Washington State

    • Goal: “Create opportunities for all children in Washington State to thrive in stable families, great schools, and strong communities”

The Acumen Fund is tackling poverty worldwide investing in specific sectors, one of which is education. The goal is by investing in education, they can, “help close the gap between access, quality, and affordability to generate pathways out of poverty.”

When I read these goals, I envision children and adults learning online and sharing what they learn with each other. These learning communities begin online but then grow organically to include the village they live in and spread to other communities. Once you catch the learning bug, it is hard to let go.The Acumen Fund points out affordability which is another advantage of MOOCs. Even though schools like Udacity, Udemy, and Treehouse are developing business models to charge for the content or certifications, it is still far more affordable than almost anything out there that offers the same level of expertise.

Sadly, the education gap is not only visible in poverty, sometimes access is limited based on your gender or ethnicity.

The best example is the inspiring story of Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban on a school bus in 2012. As stated on her website, Malala Fund, the Taliban, “shot her in the head in an attempt to silence her and end her campaign for girl’s rights to go to school.”

She has fully recovered and is taking her message to the world about everyone’s right, especially girls, to a free education. She sums it up best in this quote:

“I think of it often and imagine the scene clearly. Even if they come to kill me, I will tell them what they are trying to do is wrong, that education is our basic right.”

MOOCs and every other online opportunity provide the ability to enjoy this most basic right; access to education for everyone.

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