The key to the digital education revolution

The key to the digital education revolution

Silicon Valley is abuzz with investments in education start-ups. The National University of Singapore has also just announced that it plans to put many of its courses online.

But whenever there is potentially disruptive innovation of the kind we're witnessing in education today, there will inevitably be a period of experimentation and uncertainty.

Indeed, it is not always clear what works and what doesn't.

Fortunately, there are some models worthy of serious study. Moocs (massive open online courses) are a good example.

Massive online courses

COURSERA, the immensely popular Mooc launched last year, offers an online library of college courses taught by professors from top universities.

Since its inception, a staggering 4.7 million students worldwide have signed up to view lectures. Coursera is partnered with 87 leading academic institutions such as Stanford, Duke and Yale, and boasts over 400 courses in seven languages.

Using a combination of video lectures, online quizzes, homework assignments, and forums, courses are interactive and provide the student with grades, feedback and the ability to collaborate with peers. The best part: It is absolutely free, and a certificate costs only between US$30 and US$100 (S$37 and S$123). By comparison, an Ivy League university course costs thousands of dollars and was previously only available to the fortunate few admitted to the university's gilded halls.

Yet a growing number of critical observers feel that Moocs are ineffective platforms for education. Providers acknowledge that about 90 per cent of those who take Moocs never watch all the lectures, seldom do the homework and don't debate projects on the forums. They resemble couch potato auditors more than serious students. However, the mathematics is impressive even at a 10 per cent completion rate. For Coursera, this means that about 470,000 students have benefited from its offerings, a number far higher than most universities can teach in decades.

Over half of Mooc students come from growth markets such as Brazil, China and India. For that twenty-year-old in Bangalore sitting at his computer after working 10 hours at a call centre, Coursera is an unprecedented opportunity to learn from the best and compete in the global workforce. He will quickly become your or your child's competitor.

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