What role do MOOCs play in workforce development? New project launched to find out

Online courses have the potential to expand quality education and career training worldwide, but few people in developing countries access them. Now, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and CourseTalk.com, the largest source of reviews of online courses, are launching a project to investigate and address this unmet potential.

The initiative, called Advancing MOOCs for Development, will be driven by research on online course enrollment in Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa. TASCHA will lead this research, with support from IREX.

The public-private partnership aims to harness the power of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to help young adults across the developing world grow successful careers, potentially leading to stronger economies. MOOCs are open to anyone – with no enrollment caps – and often free.

“In many developing countries, traditional education systems are failing students,” said Rachel Blum, Senior Advisor for Youth Workforce Development at USAID. “Economic constraints, political upheaval, war and natural disaster are all leading causes. But MOOCs have the potential to change this. By answering key questions — who takes MOOCs, why they take them and what inhibits those who don’t — this project will help us better understand MOOCs and their role in offering affordable, quality education to young people worldwide.”

Research on MOOCs has been sparse, and the first year of the project will seek to alleviate this data gap. TASCHA will use surveys, interviews, and an analysis of course reviews posted on CourseTalk by students around the world to study awareness and usage of MOOCs among young adults in Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa.

TASCHA’s findings will be used to develop a framework for training young workforces through MOOCs. They will also form the basis of a campaign designed to increase MOOC enrollment and completion rates in the three chosen countries. The eventual goal is to replicate the research in other developing countries around the world.

“The potential for MOOCs to alter the educational landscape is amazing, reaching far beyond Colombia, the Philippines, and South Africa,” said IREX’s Scott Andersen, director of the initiative. “MOOCs show great promise as a way to support global youth who are longing for employment, and this initiative focuses on three key countries in the hope that lessons learned will benefit those young adults around the world.”

For more information, visit the initiative website: www.coursetalk.com/advancingmoocs or the TASCHA project page: http://tascha.uw.edu/projects/advancing-moocs-for-development/.