Distance learning resources, including massive open online courses (MOOCs), open textbooks, and mobile learning tools, bring first-world education to the Third World at a very accessible price—free. With available connections and the tools necessary to use them, distance learning can bring quality education within the reach of every student in the world.
Distance learning is experiencing new excitement and possibilities with the growth of online learning, but many developing communities have been using distance learning for a long time. Students in rural China are likely to be familiar with the China Agricultural Radio and TV School, developed over 20 years to become the world’s largest distance learning resource for rural areas using radio, TV, satellite, and audio visual materials. And India launched an educational satellite in 2004 with the exclusive purpose of sharing educational resources with rural students in developing communities. But with the development of thousands of free learning resources, often at the university level, there is so much available now that goes beyond what developing communities are able to provide on their own.
Students who may not have access to great schools in their local area can still reach world-class education. Free distance learning courses, including open courseware (OCW) and MOOCs allow students in the far reaches of the world to study materials created by the likes of MIT, Harvard and Yale. Some even offer certificates for work completed, making these distance education resources excellent career boosters for third-world students.
OCW unlocks knowledge from some of the world’s best universities. These schools open their course materials, from lectures to reading materials, online for learners to access for free. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the largest and most widely regarded open course project, with more than 2 000 individual courses available. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health’s OCW is particularly useful in the Third World, with public health courses in topics that are of special interest to developing communities, including malariology, infant mortality and water sanitation. Students can use the information they have learned from these open education resources to solve problems in their communities, and even better understand course materials they are taught in local schools.
Similar to OCW, MOOCs are the next generation of online learning. These resources take open courses a step further, allowing students to follow along in an organised group and discuss and interact with professors and other students. Providers including EdX, Udacity, and Coursera work with the world’s best universities to publish and administer courses, which typically take place over the course of several weeks. Once students have completed the course, they’ll typically receive a certificate of their work.
Students in the developing world have already caught on to the great value in these educational resources, including young female learners in Pakistan. Khadija Niazi of Pakistan uses Udacity to explore her potential as a physicist. The 12-year-old Niazi’s MOOC studies have enabled her to propel her life and influence to new heights, as one of the youngest speakers at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. Niazi, as well as her twin brother have earned certificates for their online studies and plan to continue pursuing free online education.
OCW and MOOC providers have already established themselves as excellent learning resources that can serve the entire world, but they are working diligently to expand their reach even further. There is a bright future ahead for open courses, and many providers have set their sights on better reaching learners in the developing world. MIT has a goal to reach a billion minds by 2021, bridging the gap between potential and opportunity for learners around the world.
…To be Continued
—The author is an international expert in distance learning.