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What is the potential of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for redressing inequalities in the educ

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been widely praised for their potential to provide free and accessible education at scale and for reaching learners outside of the higher education sector and in regions with limited offers of accredited degree programmes. However, many MOOCs are also critiqued for being ineffective in achieving the aspired learning outcomes and for paradoxically reinforcing rather than contesting educational inequalities.

To start exploring the potential and challenges of MOOCs in reflection of the experience of the KNOW partners SLURC, DPU, and IIHS, the WP5 team facilitated its first Co-Learning Exchange in London on March 28th.

The workshop was kicked off with presentations by Geetha Krishnan and Garima Jain from the IIHS Digital Blended Learning team. They discussed their experience with a MOOC on Sustainable Cities that was co-developed with the SDG Academy. This course has been fundamental and timely to promote advocacy for SDG 11 amongst its more than 19.000 learners. Following this, Diana Laurillard from the UCL Knowledge Hub gave fascinating insights into the potential of MOOCs as a form of research collaboration. Based on recent experience with the RELIEF Centre and its MOOC “Community Based Research", she and colleagues Eileen Kennedy and Mustafa Ismail explored how MOOCs can act as platforms to facilitate knowledge exchange and crowdsource local data at a global scale.

Both presentations drew attention to several key issues in the co-design, delivery and evaluation of MOOCs. These included the role of quality assurance; the distribution of recognition, ownership and responsibilities especially in collaboratively developed courses; the sustainability of institutional and financial resourcing; and harnessing the potential of a diverse classroom with mostly professional learners through learner-centred pedagogies.


Image above: Location of active participants in the 'Development and Planning in African Cities' MOOC, source SLURC and UCL, 2019. Leading image: Freetown, source Emmanuel Osuteye, 2017.


KNOW Freetown city partner SLURC has twice run a MOOC called “Development and Planning in African Cities”. Joseph Macarthy, Braima Koroma, Tom Doughty and Andrea Klingel (SLURC), Alexandre Apsan Frediani and Andrea Rigon (DPU-UCL) and Jo Stroud (UCL Digital Education) shared their critical reflections on learning agents, the learning environment, learning intent and learning outcomes in this MOOC and touched upon several of the above-mentioned key issues. They further highlighted that “Development and Planning in African Cities” has already been a critical contributor to expanding knowledge about urban planning and practice particularly in the context of Sierra Leone and Sub-Saharan Africa. Amongst other achievements, the course became the most-downloaded resource on the UCL Open Education repository and has recently been awarded a UCL Faculty Education award.

Based on a thorough evaluation of the two iterations of this course, the WP5 team and SLURC will work together over the coming months to align the MOOC with a wider learning and educational strategy of SLURC that builds the capacities of urban practitioners to foster pathways to urban equality.


MOOC links discussed:

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