Driving the Success of MOOCs – Role of Industry Associations

Post by Rajesh Pankaj, FICCI

Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs have been a hotly debated and oft discussed topic in the higher education circles. According to the Oxford Dictionary, MOOCs is defined as “A course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.” This essentially means that a student sitting in the remotest corner of the globe but with access to a computer and a fairly high speed internet connection can have access to courses being run at the most prestigious universities of the world like Stanford, Harvard, MIT and others of their league. Further, these courses are absolutely free of charge and are specifically designed courses which can cater to a niche of students and has no bars on factors like age, etc. While it is true that a vast number of Universities have started offering at least one online course, speculation is rife about it being successful in the long run.

It is widely felt that if the idea of MOOCs can be implemented in the true sense, it will ensure that students across the world can make an informed choice of what they wish to study, where they wish to study, under whom and for what purpose without having to think of the associated financial burden. Geographical boundaries shall cease to be important and shall usher in an era where knowledge shall be truly free and multi-directional. Detractors make a few valid arguments, some of them relating to dire completion rates, lack of credibility of the certificate with potential employers who still prefer the conventional courses and the associated accreditation issues giving rise to the question of standards, technical glitches involved in the completion of the course (refers to internet penetration and available speeds, more pertinent in the case of developing countries and assumes greater significance in light of the fact that MOOCs is supposed to be the game changer in enhancing access to affordable quality higher education for the students in these countries).

Another major challenge that needs to be dealt with is the lack of a business model for MOOCS. Currently there is no clear cut business case for MOOCs except for the fact that Universities are using it to showcase their star lecturers’ curriculum design with a view to entice fee paying international students, though, it would be extremely difficult to quantify the returns arising out of such an arrangement. However, the nay-sayers continue to believe that this is an extremely smart marketing gimmick by the institutes to attract more students to their campus, thereby taking away a bit of the sheen from the other larger benefits that MOOCs can offer to students worldwide.

If MOOCs is to succeed then all these challenges shall have to be addressed in a manner which ensures a win-win situation for all involved. While some of the challenges need a more broad based participation, in some other cases apex industry chambers like FICCI can play a pivotal role in influencing thoughts and attitudes, particularly of the private industry. Industry bodies such as ours can be the front runners in building consensus on the importance and relevance of MOOCs among industry members.

Further, industry bodies can also play a significant role in pushing for the requisite policy reforms that shall create an enabling environment for MOOCs to flourish which shall in turn pave the way for a robust and strong policy framework for MOOCs alone.

MOOCs is currently in its nascent stages and for it to be a serious game changer, it would be imperative that multi stake holder platforms are created where consensus on a wide range of significant and crucial issues would need to be established. FICCI with its large network of members with a reach which spans the length and breadth of the economy is ideally poised to carry out this task and at the same time liaise and coordinate with the government to bring about the desired policy framework. FICCI would be the ideal platform to disseminate preliminary information and spread awareness on MOOCS through the multitude of events that it conducts like seminars, Roundtables, Conferences, and Symposia etc. in connection with different industries. In fact, MOOCs cuts across sectors and FICCI with its guns trained on 72 sectors of the economy would be an ideal stakeholder to promote the growth and development of MOOCs in India.

Once there is universal acceptability on the need and potential for MOOCs, the key-stakeholders can endeavour to work towards making the MOOCs courses standardized and phased, which can also be accepted by the industry for the purpose of recruitment. This shall automatically raise the interest levels of the students with an associated increase in the completion rates. The success of MOOCs shall largely depend upon student involvement and participation of their own accord, which in turn shall depend upon the perceived value of these courses.

However, in countries like India the perceived value of a course to a great degree is a function of its ability to fetch a big ticket job. The higher paying the job it attracts, the greater is the perceived value. India as a nation has not reached a stage where students pursue courses for the love of knowledge alone. Therefore, it shall be imperative that private industry creates a system where MOOCs becomes an acceptable toll gate for students aspiring for rewarding jobs in industry. Unless private industry chooses to put its back behind this, MOOCs is unlikely to succeed. Bringing together stakeholders, establishing consensus over contentious issues, mobilising resources, etc are all tasks that can be achieved through industry bodies like FICCI.

MOOCs still has a long way to go. A plethora of issues shall need to be resolved till it can become ubiquitous. Stakeholders shall also need to work actively towards bringing in variety of end users. However, for that to happen, all stakeholders will have to make a concerted effort to ensure that the true benefits of MOOCs can permeate to all corners of the country.