Education Sector

A massive leap in higher education 

In the fall of 2011, Stanford University’s Sebastian Thrun - in collaboration with Peter Norvig through a start-up called Know Labs (now Udacity) - created history of sorts when he introduced an online course in artificial intelligence1. What was remarkable about it was that it was free, had a semi-formality about the course, had an element of collaboration and being offered by a renowned university . It was an instant hit and was opted by thousands of students globally - around 160,000 students in 190 countries enrolled in the course1. and this was a major break through to what was later called Massive, Open, On-line Course or MOOC.



Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are free online classes that select elite institutions across the world have been offering since 2008. Such courses are revolutionising and reshaping higher education by making it increasingly democratic and easily accessible to a large number of students globally.


An MOOC connects both instructors and learners across geographies on a common field of discourse. Such courses generally do not have specific requirements but challenging timelines in the form of weekly topics or focus discussions. The rest of the model works simply, with a weekly presentation on a topic, discussion questions and suggested resources for self-learning. Posting discussions, reflecting on topical ideas, and sharing resources through a variety of social media are at the core of the MOOC learning model.

It is expected that the curricula and structure of this model will evolve through increased exchange between participants. Currently, most free MOOCs do not offer college credit to students at affiliated institutions, but they may provide participants with a certificate of completion. However, this could change with institutes such as the University of Washington looking to offer credit, as well as some extra assignments and instructors, for its Coursera classes in exchange for a fee2. Further, college-enrolled students who pay tuition may qualify for college credit if they demonstrate complete command over the course content.


Until now, most MOOCs have offered only computer science, mathematics and engineering courses. In future, though, Coursera plans 100 or more courses in subjects as diverse as medicine, poetry and world history since 1300.3

The following are some well-known MOOCs that are currently operating in the education space:4


  • Academic Room: The Academic Room offers more than 1,000 full-length lecture videos of courses from Harvard, MIT, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, Berkley, Duke and Carnegie Mellon. These are accompanied by course material such as books, journal articles and syllabi listings for self-paced learning.
  • Coursera : Funded through venture capital of USD16 million, the company was founded by computer science professors Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford University; it plans to offer more than 100 courses from an expanded roster of 16 top-tier universities, including the California Institute of Technology, Duke University and the University of Virginia.
  • Khan Academy : Indo-Bangladeshi American educator Salman Khan established this non-profit educational organization in 2006.
  • edX and MITx : MIT has launched the not-for-profit MITx in effort bid to develop a free and open platform for online education. “MITx will offer a portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world. It will also enhance the educational experience of its oncampus students, offering them online tools that supplement and enrich their classroom and laboratory experiences,” according to the University’s website. The inaugural course, 6.002x, was launched in March 2012. Harvard joined the initiative, which was subsequently renamed edX, and Berkeley joined in the summer. At present, Harvard and MIT have both invested USD30 million each, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided additional support of USD1 million. Berkeley has also decided to join the edX collaboration. In fact, more than 120 universities from around the world have expressed interest in collaborating with edX since Harvard and MIT announced its creation in May. However, edX has been steadfast in adding only one affiliate at a time to maintain its quality. In addition to providing online courses on the edX platform, the "X University" Consortium is expected to serve as a forum through which members can share experiences around online learning. Many more universities may join this forum in future.5



India’s answer to MOOC


Meanwhile, in India, an interesting trend has been taking shape almost simultaneously. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) launched the National Mission on Education through ICT (NMEICT) through Sakshat6, a dedicated portal designed to provide high-quality content that virtually anyone can access. The portal aims to bring together the country’s leading professionals in their respective fields and the best available knowledge resources on the web in the public domain. Further, it intends to standardize the curriculum and learning material across the country in line with the global standards of education.


Benefits and challenges


Flexibility of curriculum; eliminating the need for a brick-and-mortar classroom; freedom of choice; no tuition fees; low establishment or infrastructure costs; no language barriers due to the availability of website translation; networking and exchanging views with a large number of students and instructors - all these qualities make MOOCs an ideal learning and teaching platform for students and educators, respectively.

However, critiques have pointed out that the absence of tangible instructors - as well as the need for digital literacy and connectivity - may prove to be a disadvantage in the long run. Moreover, discipline among students and the likelihood of academic dishonesty - particularly with online examinations due to a lack of regulation and supervision - are potential roadblocks in the success of this alternative form of learning.


KPMG in India's point of view


Innovation in MOOCs lies not in its online content delivery format, but the manner in which it drastically reduces the cost of education and the smart use of a collaborative model of learning. The model is in stark contrast to the traditional high-involvement model that has prevailed in India since the Gurukula age. Yet, while acceptance of a new system may be a challenge, it could work wonders in remote areas, where learners have limited access to quality teachers.



1. Instruction for Masses Knocks Down Campus Walls: New York Times, 4 March , 2012
2. UW to offer fee-based courses through Coursera: Seattle Times, 18 July, 2012
3. Is Coursera the Beginning of the End for Traditional Higher Education? 17 July, 2012
4. , www., ,,
5. Berkeley Joins ‘edX’ Effort to Offer Free Open Courses: The Chronicle, 24 July 2012
6. National Mission on Education through ICT website


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