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Posted by on Aug 22, 2015 in Higher Education, MOOCs | 3 comments

Assessing the Threats MOOCs Pose to South African Higher Education

Assessing the Threats MOOCs Pose to South African Higher Education

MOOCs have seen rapid growth in past few years, especially in the developed countries. This massive open educational resource called the MOOC, has somewhat increased participation in higher education through platforms such as Coursera, Edx and Udacity. The majority of the MOOCs in these platforms have been largely xMOOCs. xMOOCs are MOOCs that are professor lead, and are more or less an extension of the traditional online courses being provided without controlled prerequisites, for free or at relatively affordable prices. A number of these freely accessible MOOCs include a recording of the proffesor’s or expert’s lecture coupled with learning material and activities.

By providing these MOOCs openly, it means that the developing world internet users can also access these courses. Because of this element of free access, Prof. Adam Habib and Christine Woods identified some threats that MOOCs pose here in South Africa and Africa at large. They highlight that, already there are corners in the developing and developed world, in which MOOCs are viewed as having a hidden Western Ivy League universities agenda, i.e. cynicism. This threat is limiting those individuals, organisations and countries (especially in the developing world) from creatively engaging in the MOOCs arena, thus resulting in low uptake of these valuable open education resources. The low uptake phenomena within the developing world is further exacerbated by the lack of technological infrastructure, and inadequate internet connectivity. The other threat for South African higher education is the ongoing debate between the pro-MOOCs and the anti-MOOCs communities. The debate has limited progressive engagement around MOOCs and further limiting the amount of research about MOOCs pedagogical implications and applications.

Analysing the views of educational leaders, namely Prof Habib and Christine Woods, it is clear that there is generally no clear understanding amongst tertiary institution leaders, of what MOOCs are here for. Furthermore, the leaders are simply reacting to the evangelical voices who praise MOOCs at any given opportunity without explaining them wholesomely as pioneers like Dave Cormier and Steve Wheeler have done. Essentially MOOCs cannot be judged using the same criteria as the current South African education systems. MOOCs are not here to replace or challenge, therefore this view of seeing MOOCs as an alternative to classroom learning poses a threat in that it limits us from exploiting the potential benefits.

There is also a fear of MOOCs resulting in increased domination by the world’s top universities. This view again is limiting in that it shifts attention from the original purpose of MOOCs i.e. shifting from a learning focus to the geopolitics of education. The local pundits suggest MOOCs will weaken local university standings, but I say that we need to strategically take advantage of the MOOCs emergence, contribute to and develop MOOCs that are applicable in our context and adapt to the rapid changing technological environment. It is also important that MOOC researchers clearly unpack the different types/categories of MOOCs in order for educational leaders to understand their purpose.


Abib & Wods MOOCs – Panacea or benevolent curse?

Cormier What is a MOOC?

Mphaphuli Reactions to MOOCs in Higher Education

Khoza Linitations & Advantages of the MOOC model in South African Higher Education


  1. Frederick, I agree that lack of technological infrastructure and the challenges of internet connectivity are two of the biggest challenges. However, my personal opinion is that the lack of accreditation possibilities within South Africa is also a very big challenge for the development of MOOCs. It is people like you and me that already have formal qualifications that can benefit on a personal level from MOOCs but the majority of people lack proper educational qualifications.

    • Thanks for the comment Wilma, it is true that accreditation will catalyse the adoption and development MOOCs. This would mainly apply to the xMOOCs, which are similar to the closed online closes in nature. When it comes to the original MOOC types i.e. the cMOOC/rMOOC, the fact that knowledge is co-created and the curriculum is initially non-existent makes it automatically disqualifies it from any educational quality assurance process (accreditation). Hence, my call for a total mindshift when dealing with MOOCs.

      I also think that the formal qualifications are essential and should be one’s primary goal in education. I think MOOCs are a good way to enhance one’s existing knowledge or to test the waters of another discipline.

  2. Is sharing of knowledge a hazardous endeavour? South Africans do not learn in unison and that is where the Western nationals beat us. The mention of collaboration demoralises us and we opt out of taking advantage of what seemingly is working to achieve the most important aspect of acquiring new knowledge. The West do not mean to threaten our educational system nor do they wish to compete with us, by engaging in MOOCs one stands a great chance to learn. It would however be worthwhile to be able to point out a tangible result of having participated in an on-line type of learning. I will close of by saying, I agree with you that MOOCs are beneficial to learning and should not be treated as a threat but a tool to get us somewhere.


  1. MOOCs Implementation: Requirements for South African Higher Education | Teaching and Learning Forum - […] Memory Mphaphuli Assessing the Threats MOOCs Pose to South African Higher Education […]

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