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World Bank, Coursera to take MOOCs to developing world

Developing countries worldwide are to benefit from an agreement signed last Tuesday by the World Bank Group and Coursera, a leading provider of MOOCs – massive open online courses. The collaboration aims to help meet the demand for solutions-oriented learning on pressing issues in targeted countries.

The courses will be offered as part of a new Open Learning Campus being built by the World Bank, “where practitioners, development partners and the general public can more systematically access real-time, relevant and world-class learning”, according to a press release.

The World Bank has offered e-learning through its e-institute in critical areas of development such as health, education, urban development and climate change. It is now planning to scale up offerings through the campus and partnerships with regional and country-based institutions, and via innovative delivery vehicles.

“We are in the process of developing the campus and expect to launch it formally in the second quarter of 2014,” said Abha Joshi-Ghani, director of Knowledge and Learning at the World Bank. Its purpose is to be a single destination for learning on development topics.

“Like any campus, a blend of learning products is required. Some of the most effective areas include e-learning courses (in various formats), South-South (or North) knowledge exchange, and some combination of these with the more traditional face-to-face methodologies.

“The campus aspires to improve delivery by monitoring delivery for effective, evidence based and adaptive learning,” Joshi-Ghani told University World News.

The World Bank will use the Coursera platform to deliver MOOCs on frontier development topics, and these courses – and the online communities of learners built around them – will help deliver technical knowledge as well as foster the exchange of skills among practitioners on how to tackle specific development challenges.

The partnership will also allow the World Bank to explore specific challenges in developing countries, such as dealing with low internet bandwidth, customising content for local realities, and exploring the potential for mobile learning.

Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller said that since its inception the MOOCs platform had experienced remarkable growth and momentum towards its mission to expand free quality learning opportunities around the world.

Working with 91 educational institutions across four continents, Coursera now offers more than 450 free online tertiary-level courses to five million students around the globe. Among other areas of growth, Coursera is continuing to expand its capacity to deliver online learning centred on practical skills.

“An area of focus will be on social and economic development, and the partnership with the World Bank will be instrumental in this regard,” said Koller.

The first MOOC, “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided”, is expected to start in January 2014. It will focus on climate change and is also expected to allow the World Bank to reach out to a broader public interested in these issues. Future topics are being considered including those in the fields of health and sanitation.

Joshi-Ghani said the Open Learning Campus would integrate innovations in technology and instructional design, like open courseware, digital-enhanced collaborative learning, ‘gamification’ and even mobile formatting, to provide quality learning at low unit cost. Three ‘schools’ within the campus include:

  • WBx: Video talks and podcasts by experts or advocates.
  • WBa: Structured learning including F2F, facilitated e-courses and bite-sized modules, and MOOC and single points of contact – SPOCs – on key development issues.
  • WBc: Communities of practice, South-South knowledge exchange for just-in-time access to implementation solutions and tacit knowledge.

“We see knowledge, learning and innovation as key accelerators to reach our goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030,” said Sanjay Pradhan, the World Bank’s vice president for Change, Knowledge and Learning, in the press release.

“We are always looking for new ways to translate knowledge into action that tackles the many challenges that practitioners face on a daily basis.”
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