International Cooperation must not ignore MOOCs: A primer on facts & platforms, and my personal viewpoint.

MOOCs, Massive Online Open Courses, are classes with hundreds or even thousands of participants from every corner of this planet with internet access. MOOCs are a major hype right now, with international publications discussing their merits and demerits (see NY Times,, Frenchweb, Die Zeit, The Guardian). The Americans are paragon in this field of education, with countless courses on the platforms Coursera, edX, and Udacity.

“…FutureLearn will offer courses from world-class universities, accessible on desktop, tablet and mobile. Allowing people to fit learning around their lifes rather than their lifes around learning.
From the FutureLearn G8 introduction video, July 4, 2013

The British are about to start FutureLearn in cooperation with Irish and Australian support, the British Museum and other partners (see here). Australia’s Deakin University announced their first MOOC in June. In Germany projects imageIversity, Allversity (with a focus on International Development topics), and Candena (a business selling MOOCs to big enterprises for internal, reoccurring trainings; also running a MOOC with Leuphana University) are open for business. And the French had their first native MOOCs, too (ReSOP, ITYPA).
(For more background information, refer to the reading list at the end of this article.)

As these online universities gain traction, and start counting for actual college course credit, they’ll most likely have enormous real-world impact. They’ll help in getting jobs and creating business ideas. They might just live up to their hype. For millions of people around the globe with few resources, MOOCs may even be life-changing.”
Commentary by A. J. Jacobs: “Two Cheers for Web U!”, April 20, 2013

“When I visited [Coursera in May 2012], about 300,000 people were taking 38 courses taught by Stanford professors and a few other elite universities. [In January 2013], they have 2.4 million students, taking 214 courses from 33 universities, including eight international ones.”
Commentary by Thomas L. Friedman: “Revolution Hits the Universities”, January 26, 2013

I’ve enrolled in two Coursera courses at the moment: Introduction to Public Speaking (hosted by Matt McGarrity, University of Washington) and The Camera Never Lies (hosted by Emmett Sullivan, Royal Holloway | University of London). I’m looking forward to my Introduction to Global Health and Climate Change starting soon on Coursera. But I’m not eagerly hunting for scores, so I won’t pass the tests. For me, that’s not the goal. I love to learn, enjoy the “information nugget” format, and like to put the knowledge into practice, but I hate to take tests. I take my value out of this classes without the piece of paper at the end. But the important point is: Thousands of other people will pass and get certificates.

These people interact with the courses, they take them seriously, and they take great value out of them. While I lurk in the shadows, listen and read, scarcely comment in the forum (very much like my engagement on Twitter), they strive to reach perfect scores and make use of the insights in their daily lives.

“At this point there have been more than 17,500 students active on this course, making nearly 2,500 posts [in the forums] in the past three-and-a-half days.”
Message by the management team of “The Camera Never Lies” @ Coursera, June 30, 2013. This picture shows the forum.


Accessible online education. Open to everybody. Impressive figures. Figures International Cooperation for Sutainable Development must not ignore. imageBy now, courses are offered mostly in English, and they are, as Jörn Loviscach pointed out at re:publica 2013 (recording, skip to 16.30), not accessable world-wide due to internet restrictions and language barrieres in major areas of this planet. (In Northern China, I was able to access iTunes University and Coursera this February.) What if classes on HIV preventation, on How to build a windmill (moving TEDtalk), major farming topics or whatever would be delivered in local languages, supported with written knowledge nuggets…?

Students came from 194 countries, virtually all in the world. The top five countries were the United States (26,333), India (13,044), the United Kingdom (8,430), Columbia (5,900), and Spain (3,684). Although it was speculated that many Chinese students would enroll, in fact, we counted only 622 Chinese registrants.”
Studying Learning in the worldwide classroom: Research into EDX’s first MOOC. Access to PDF here.

Of course, there are those in International Development who see the chances. Ian Attfield blogged about MOOCs on the DFID blog. Worldbank is involved, as they tell us in their series of blog entries. German MOOC expert Monika König did a presentation at GIZ Sommerakademie (her article in German here). And on the forums, MOOCs are discussed eagerly in terms of hygiene education right now. Other bloggers are toying with ideas, too (here, here, here).

“With a fairly slow broadband connection at home, I found myself staying up late 1 or 2 evenings a week to read the fascinating online material (…), watch YouTube videos (complete with script) and attempt quizzes that pass for homework in collaboration with 35,000 other students around the globe.”
Ian Attfield, Education Adviser, Tanzania (DFID Bloggers)

“Here at the World Bank, we are, all of a sudden, getting lots (!) of questions about MOOCs these days from our partners in ministries of education in middle and low income countries (…)”
Missing Perspectives on MOOCs — Views from developing countries, April 19, 2013 (here).


To be fair, there are some classes focussed on International Development topics set up right now. German Allversity (pictured above) has multiple topics but too few students to be called “massive”. On the website of EdX, a non-profit created by founding partners Harvard and MIT, courses include “Introduction of Water Treatment”, “Solar Energy”, and “The Age of Globalization”.

German MOOC provider Iversity offers “Internationales Agrarmanagement” (International agricultuaral management) and “The European Union in Global Governance”. (Also, “The Future of Storytelling” is taught in English and German and the log-in can happen by Facebook… I am eagerly looking forward to that MOOC starting.)


The technical resources are there, experts in the field are available and topics are uncountable. USAid is selling Cousera classes to the public in Pakistan. What are the other major players in International Cooperation for Sustainable Development waiting for? Isn’t it time to spend a few bucks in flagship projects to gain experience of their own? Time will tell if this is another topic non-English speaking major players in the business of “knowledge sharing” are late to embrace…

(Since I started to write this blog entry, I’ve uploaded the draft about 20 times, and I guess this is not the final version either. Thanks for your time, I’m looking forward to your comments.)


Reading and watching list – more about MOOCs

MOOC News and Reviews has a great collection of related stories. clip_image009 You may also visit, the MOOC Maker Course in German language, or read MOOC, a European view in English or French. Also check out the speech Daphne Koller of Coursera made 2012 at TED as well as the re:publica 2013 videos: Online Universities by Jörn Loviscach ( and How to build awesome, open, dirt-cheap… by Jan Philipp Schmidt (


German GIZ recently published an issue of their magazine “nah dran” (in close distance) focussed on mobile and online education: German only.

Disclosure: I am a former employee of GIZ and I am not aware that MOOC’s have been discussed while I was with the company.