As an academician and educator, I have been on one side of the educational equation most of the time. For the past few years, I have been teaching heavily at the university and at national and international orthopaedic events. On the other hand, I would attend a day or two of a special course, a workshop or a conference in orthopaedic surgery or spine surgery to learn the recent advances in my specialty every few months. Most of the time, the knowledge gap is not big. It is a matter of tweaking and updating some knowledge base and new procedures skills.
A couple of weeks ago, I enrolled in the Stanford University “Mobile Health Without Borders” Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Although I have enrolled in multiple online courses, this massive course was an exceptional educational experience for me for multiple reasons.
- It covers an area that I have no previous experience in as a spine surgeon. This translated into a motivational drive for me to learn more.
- The widespread geographical distribution of participants. I bet that there was a participant from almost every country in the world, which added richness to the discussion.
- The diversity of participants’ background. There were high school students, medical students, healthcare professionals, engineers, IT specialists, entrepreneurs, and others. Although we have few weeks more to go, the different perspectives of discussion so far have been phenomenal.
- The entrepreneurial culture of the participants. This basically translates into how we can make a financial gain from every possible idea.
- The high potential for these courses to develop communities of practice with like-minded people.
- The fact it is a free course definitely helped in the recruitment of such a diverse pool of participants.
I have always thought about the business model of such free & freemium MOOCs & how they cover their costs. I have always thought why would Harvard, MIT, Stanford and a whole list of Ivy League universities provide such courses for free in edX, Coursera or NovoEd. Is it part of their corporate social responsibility or is it part of their marketing strategy?
I recalled what Prof. Sanjay Sarma, Director of Digital Learning at MIT told us during the Radical Innovation course in Dubai last week. The president of MIT recruited him for this position and asked him to “disrupt” the MIT using digital learning. We need more of educational visionary leaders like MIT’s president.
Regardless of their business models, what these courses are offering in improving the knowledge and prosperity of the global community is exceptional.
My questions are:
- When will we see MOOCs directed to the Arabic world?
- Where are all those “leading” universities in the Arab world? What are they doing in the MOOC “business”?
- Where are all those rich Arab philanthropists? What have they contributed to sustain the MOOCs?
- What will be the impact of these Arabic MOOCs in building a knowledge-based economy of the Arab countries?
- When will the Arab youth divert a little bit of their attention from Facebook and Twitter to edX, Coursera and NovoEd or their future Arabic counterpart?
Until then, I will continue to enjoy the remaining few weeks of my MOOC and thank you Stanford!