Limitations and Advantages of the MOOC model in South African Higher Education

Posted by Bongani Khoza

Massive open online Courses (MOOCs) owe their existence to the rapid innovations that have been and are still being made in the information communication technologies (ICTs) landscape. The introduction of MOOCs into the Higher Education landscape globally and in particular the South African Higher Education landscape, precipitated by the advances and innovations made in the ICT landscape have given rise to countless, measurable and unimaginable opportunities and threats to the South African Higher Education landscape.

Within the South African Higher Education landscape MOOCs offer an opportunity to re-invent and re-imagine and transform, the delivery and instruction of course content offered by historically traditional on-campus and distance learning Higher Education institutions by using online technologies.

The introduction and gradual increase in use of online technologies, promotes and encourages the idea of traditional face-to-face classroom connectedness to take a different form. A huge part of traditional face-to-face classroom connectedness that is a catalyst for fostering knowledge transfer between students-teachers and student-student relationships is largely now being converted to a digital form, making use of a variety of online technologies. These technology-enabled learning assets come with rich data that could be mined in order to expose the teaching and learning implications (Jarrett 2012: internet source) in Higher Education. Again, within the South African Higher Education institutions landscape MOOCs could be used as a vehicle to promote the idea of flipping classrooms by blending MOOCs into on-campus courses.  Additionally “MOOCs could teach us a lot about how to develop high-quality online learning experiences that complement face-to-face instruction”(Jarrett 2012:I nternet source).

The current inherent structural design of MOOCs offers an opportunity to transform education, where students are able to take and choose courses at their own individual paces. Acknowledging that some courses might have set duration, but the allocated time would allow students to engage and review course material at different times at their own pace, because content is available for longer duration during the delivery of a course.

For traditionally distance educational institutions MOOCs could offer opportunities for “wider range of learners, particularly low-income young adults and students with lower levels of academic proficiency, who can learn via MOOCs and potentially receive credit for doing so”(Jarrett 2012:Internet source). Similarly, for traditionally typical face-to-face lecture based institutions offering and delivering MOOCs could be seen as potential vehicle for generating revenue, when courses are licensed to other institutions.

By design MOOCs are meant to be “self-directed, meaning you follow the course materials, complete the readings and assessments, and get help from large community of fellow learners through online forums” (Gulati 2013:38). In addition, “lectures that typically take an entire class period can be broken up online into shorter, more focused units, allowing students to spend as much time on each segment as they need”(Pope 2014:internet source). MOOCs offer a platform for peer learning in that subject matter expects in different fields of study are not the only ones imparting course content knowledge and resources, students are able share, contribute and learn with and other students. MOOCs being founded on being strictly online means that they are easily accessible provided the intended target audience has the appropriate technology and internet connection to access course material through various devices, are the students that will most likely benefit.

MOOCs if structured well provide students with access to specialised knowledge resources by exposing new ways of introducing and promoting staff and students to professional development courses in various fields of study. MOOCs have the ability to mix different pedagogies by incorporating different media, disciplines and subject matter expects, thus potentially help reconstruct “the product and processes of higher education business. The bigger question is how Higher Education institutions both campus and long-distance will be able to adapt and repurpose the Higher Education business model, by critically examining the effect of MOOCs on public education and using the data generated to insure that educational institutions are making the most effective use of the technologies and pedagogies inherent in MOOCs.

Perception within the Higher Education landscape is that the millennial generation is completely comfortable with technology is both true and unfounded. This perception makes assumptions that all people have access to the same level of access to current technologies depending on where you are. MOOCs might have a more significant role to play in high schools, ”(Pope 2014:internet source) first year experience programs can be introduced to High school students through MOOCs, pre-orientation preparation can be delivered through MOOCs, Open day events can be facilitated through MOOCs. High school teachers can also enroll as alumni and pass their knowledge they have gained to their learners

Higher Educational institutions still have to figure out how best to use MOOCs effectively by re-inventing or re-aligning traditional ways of delivering and measuring course material to students (Pope 2014). MOOCs are both an opportunity and threat to campus based infrastructure, in that a Higher Education facilities need no longer have spaces that only used at specific times of the year, thus enabling institutions to only make build and maintain office space and facilities for academic staff and ICT administrators students to not have, on the other hand it must be acknowledged that the various benefits that might come through MOOCs may not be immediate.

Posted by Bongani Khoza


11 responses on "Limitations and Advantages of the MOOC model in South African Higher Education"

  1. Thanks for the idea of blended learning (MOOCs & Traditional classwork). This is definitely an idea to be shared with my peers who are instructional designers. Would you suggest that the blend be between class and existing MOOCs, or class and MOOCs created by the course lecturer?

  2. Nice explicative piece. You mention the structure of MOOCs and trying to make it fit into the university structure, do you not think that the university structure of learning might also need some changing in order to optimise (or make best use of) the benefits of MOOCs? With this mentioned what changes would you suggest for SA higher Education in order to benefit fro the MOOCs?

  3. Thank you Bongani, you made reference to a paper by jarett which states that MOOCs can earn credits. How do you see this panning out here in South Africa? Imagine the plagarism opportunities that arise and other quality issues. These are questions that still need to be addressed before local universities embrace MOOCs.

  4. I like that you identified many uses of MOOCs, e.g. for high school engagement, pre-varisty preparations and for orientation. Interesting stuff!!

  5. Bongani, your blog contains a lot of interesting information and I read a few times to ‘digest’ all the information. You used the word ‘re-invent’ but MOOCs need to avoid reinventing what is already exiisting. There is a saying, ‘Dont throw the baby out with the water’. MOOC’s must learn from what is currently existing in Higher Education – the mistakes but also what is working.

    You also mentioned that students can work at their own pace but that can cause challenges. Many students do not have the necessary self-discipline for the MOOC’s model.

  6. I think it will be a good idea if on-line learning can be a part of life skills at school. It will be a good preparation for this platform of learning for school leavers.

  7. Hi – Fred, responding to the type of Blend I think both types of Blends could work, I think the instructor leading the class or group of students in case of postgrads, would have to find the right blend that would work for him or her,

    Hi – David, responding to the structure, I think the introduction of institutional supported learning management systems has paved the way, but the question is who will create MOOCs within institutions, who will support the MOOCs ? And how will academic quality assurance be applied to MOOCs? Therefore I would say yes the structures would need to be revised to some degree. I see policies around Intellectual property, accreditation of courses or part of courses would need be be refined

    Hi – Wilma, I would say the earlier the concept of online learning is introduced learners and students the easier it would be motivate learners and students around discipline. Yes, I agree with the life skills at school, which ties in with Fred’s point on different applications of MOOCs.

    I appreciate your comments

  8. MOOCs should be ‘advertised’/ promoted. The question is how?
    I know FACEBOOK is not really for educational interaction but I posted the link to this course and shared a bit about it with my friends. Two people responded and said that they are interested and are going to ‘investigate’ what courses are available. That showed me how word-of-mouth on different platforms can work. Our vice-CEO at the college e-mailed all the managers the link and that is how I learned about MOOC’s.

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