Threats & Opportunities That MOOCs Pose To South African Higher Education

Posted by Wilma De Villiers

Some views are strongly supporting MOOC’s and the value thereof whilst others are against this and very skeptical that it can be beneficial for Higher Education in South Africa.

 There are people that see this as a ‘disruptive technological development’ but then also see it as a possible answer to address the challenges for the first 21st century’s education. There is so much confusing views because of the lack of sufficient research in this field, especially in South Africa.

This will be to the advantage of South Africa to be effectively part of and interact with the global world through education. It will be valuable for the workplace. MOOC’s involve people that would have been excluded because it ‘brings’ the classroom to the student. MOOCs has a wonderful opportunity to extend the teaching and learning experiences of many people.


A threat is that the courses will not be acknowledged by the workplace and it will be disheartening for students if they only find this out after they have completed a course. Quality assurances mechanisms should be put in place. MOOC’s will have to look at aspects like certification.


Another threat is that it leads to unequal education in the world because poorer countries like South Africa has a disadvantage that many people cannot access technology. Many of these people will be unsuccessful in completing these courses because of the mode of delivery. Self-motivation plays a very important role. The circumstances that many people live under in South Africa will be a threat for their studies, for example, no support from family and friends, poverty, etc.


One of the pitfalls are that students are not prepared for this way of studying and it is an opportunity for MOOC’s is to offer a course that prepares prospective students for this way of studying. When one look at what happened in 2008: 2, 200 students enrolled but only 150 participated actively. This is also observed in this course. There are only a few people that interact actively. Is the reason that it is for free and people feel less motivated to participate? What are the other factors that play a role?


I don’t think that it serves a threat to Higher Education. It can be a valuable contributor to Higher Education but it is evident that MOOC’s will have to do research on many things like why the completion rate is so low and how will certification change the role that it plays?

Posted by Wilma De Villiers


MOOCs – Panacea or benevolent curse? (Adam Habib (Wits) & Christine Woods)

5 responses on "Threats & Opportunities That MOOCs Pose To South African Higher Education"

  1. Great post Wilma. I agree with your views about quality assurance. Do you propose that this be done by SAQA, or by a new entity/body since SAQA is reluctant to support online learning? Should there be advocacy for open online learning or would that be jumping the gun?

  2. Thanks Wilma, and the challenges yo mention are real. I do not think these challenges are threats caused by MOOCs, but rather weaknesses of the Higher Ed in South Africa. I think MOOCs present the opportunity for government to motivste expansion of ICTs to the rural folk were access is limited.

  3. You are spot on on participation and motivation. The fact that the course is for free reduces ones drive to complete. I wonder if we could put together a course that will teach students how learn using MOOCs in order to enhance retention. On the other hand, I do not think all MOOCs were designed to cater for retention. Looking at rMOOCs as described in , the aim really is for those who want to gain a deeper understanding about a certain phenomena. I would expect xMOOCs to have the highest retention since it is still modeled around the traditional classroom.

  4. Frederick, my personal opinion is that SAQA is struggling to cope with all the current demands that they need to deal with. On the other hand, I don’t know if another quality assurance body to oversee online learning is such a good idea. SAQA (ETDP SETA) or UMALUSI will then maybe be possibilities to consider for quality assurance.
    There should be an advocacy for open online learning.

  5. David, I agree with you. Currently Higher Education and education in general are experiencing so many challenges and they can’t keep up with all the demands. It doesn’t seem as if they are ready or/ and have the capacity to handle on-line learning.
    Martha, it is disappointing that one’s drive must be motivated by how much money you paid but in some (many?) instances it is actually true. It is also very disappointing that there are not more people in education that are motivated to gain a deeper understanding about a certain phenomena. It is my opinion that a part of the problem is the high demands when you work in education and also the high demands of life that contributes to the lack of motivation.

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