Democratization of Education Through MOOC

In the education world it is called Mass Open Online Courses (MOOC). I have been following the movement of open courses and instruction for some years already. My journey with MOOC is rather unique because I stumbled upon it by chance when I was looking for free e-books on the internet. It was 6 years ago where I was looking for Toyota Production System book I stumbled into Khan Academy and several other video portals. I don’t quite remember those portals but they were mainly university lectures made into video format. All these videos (the full length) are available online. I used to be able to download this from iTunes some years ago, I don’t think you can do the same now.

Some trivia on MOOC; many people mistaken it with online videos. It is not. You can find thousands of good quality videos on YouTube or TED Talks. MOOC has online tools that help you to know what you want out of the course (normally there’s a pre course survey). I found the survey help me think through my commitment level. There was a time in the middle of the survey I decided to drop that course because of my overwhelming schedule at that time. MOOC also provides you with online access to several open source tools that you are not aware of but it is only available while you are taking the course. For example there is this online tool that help me create a table of innovation using graphic format. MOOC also has quizzes instead of rudimentary examination. In those quizzes I was given 10 questions and I can answer them as many times until I receive the passing mark to get ahead and earn point. I wasn’t penalized and I learn better. For example rock music consists of drum, guitar and bass. It was in the 1970s where electric guitar was born when rock music morphed into a new beast!

MOOC is not just videos, they are instructional courses that’s made online. MIT has its Open Course Ware where it adopted Creative Common License some time in 2002. From 50 courses published in 2002, now MIT OCW (open courseware) has more than 2000 courses; some with Turkish and Korean translation. It was complicated to register and go through MIT OCW back then. However with better adoption from global citizens, MOOC took better shape with the establishment of another provider, Khan Academy. Variety of disciplines are offered in most MOOC ranging from mathematics, history, language, education, humanities, sciences, astronomy, business, entrepreneurship, music and many more.

Khan Academy founded in 2006, where as a not for profit organization and funded by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, its uniqueness will blow your mind. I love Khan Academy for its content simplification and differentiated teaching using technology. I used to download loads of them on my iPhone. I listen to the lecture while driving and when I have time to look at the screen, I watch how the instructor show me techniques to answer question on trigonometry on his interactive whiteboard. Some special schools adopted Khan Academy as part of its enrichment content. A brilliant strategy, to my opinion.

This democratization of knowledge excites me because I believe education should be customized to personal level. In other words, we can choose what we want to learn and based on our need at that time. It is not necessary for us to go to school or university to get those papers and get stuck by the time it ends. However the very reason that we go to the university is for the accreditation and recognition of our education because without it whatever we do to obtain our real education will not be recognized by the employer or clients. This is where the gap in MOOC at the early stage, where students just learn for his or her own knowledge but unable to demonstrate their knowledge prowess and skills beyond intellectual level; the least they can show it while they do their work if ever they were given chance. The next development of MOOC is something that I truly admire and support.

It was around 5 years I learned about Coursera and much less than that on eDX. These two are providers of high quality university courses especially from American universities. It was when eDX decided to invest several millions into its MOOC development, it creates a new wave of open courses for the global citizens. eDX main founders are Harvard University and MIT. Now they have partners including Cornell, UC Berkeley, Boston University, Dartmouth, Davidson, HKUST (Hong Kong), ANU (Australia) and few more. This is a great development. You should consider visiting their website and enroll in some of the courses. I have enrolled in Innovation and Commercialization from

On the other hand, Coursera started in 2012 founded by Stanford University professors. It is a for profit organization and currently working with Stanford University, Princeton, University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania. There are more than 6 million students on Coursera today and growing. I am currently taking a course on History of Rock Music (University of Florida) and University Teaching 101 (Johns Hopkins University) from Coursera. You should also visit Coursera and have a jam!

"Can MOOC finds a viable business model?"
“Can MOOC find a viable business model?”

What I like most about MOOC today is the convergence of ideas and history has shown us that the moment convergence happens, a big shift is coming soon. I believe other than banking, education is next on the line to experience tectonic shift. It probably take another 5 years or less for Malaysia to see something big coming. It may be a bit late but it is better late than never. Because if change doesn’t happen, there will be serious fall out of competitiveness of the universities and revenue will be impacted as well.

In The Economist, February 2014, says that “online course is its rock-bottom marginal cost: teaching additional students is virtually free. The fixed cost of creating an online course is relatively high, however. Getting started means putting together a curriculum, producing written and recorded material to explain it, and creating an interactive site that facilitates discussion and feedback.” This so true especially for public university. The same article pointed out the obvious that adding another student means adding another block of facility and the need to prepare another accommodation. Besides, to raise the productivity of tenured professors and teaching faculty is already difficult for bigger class means poorer quality. With the perennial concern on graduate quality, best to keep the class at optimum level (depending on courses).

While this may threaten the existing business model, especially for public universities, it doesn’t leave them with much choices nowadays. There is already major financial cut (from 20-30% annually) from the government coffers to finance public universities and it doesn’t seem to slow down. Other than financial savings (maximum 10-15%) from key activities- still not enough to offset the cut; public universities should consider paving the way for MOOC to become the next revenue stream. This could start for students abroad especially from developing countries where it has strong presence. It can be a good brand building before the students make their way to the physical university. I could attest to this when I take courses from Coursera and eDX where I could remember the name of the professors and earn certificate for the classes from the universities.

"University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape."
“University that adopt MOOC fast enough and offer it to the right market will have an edge as the innovation is taking shape.”

In my Rock class from Coursera, there are  15,000 students registered for the course. In my University Teaching 101, there are more than 10,000 students. They come from around the world and with various backgrounds. I read a story of a teenage girl in South Africa where she completed around 15 courses on MOOC and now become the smartest girl in her village. Despite the fact that she never been to school, she is now a village teacher teaching and inspiring other children. She is blessed with her literacy in English and internet connection. This is classic education. A quote from Mark Twain, “Don’t let school get in the way of your education.” I think public universities in Malaysia should seriously do something about this and start small.

There are many ways to start MOOC because as public university they have many resources at their disposal. What they need a strong will and deterministic vision of the university management to leap forward. I will try to cover more information and ideas on how MOOC could benefit the university and how to go about doing it in my next post.

Brickbats please send to donkhairul@gmail.com

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