By the end of the year 2017, above 800 universities of the world offered 9400 courses to 81 million individuals through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Historically, MOOCs pioneering platforms “Coursera” by two Stanford Professors and “edX” a collaborative effort of the Harvard University and MIT were launched in the year 2012. Both Coursera and edX continue to dominate the MOOCs market with 30 million and 14 million registered users respectively. The Chinese XuetangX platform emerging in the year 2013 has shown substantial growth with 9.3 million registered users. Prominent countries providing online courses globally through MOOCs are China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, United States of America, and a European Multiple MOOC Aggregator (EMMA) for European Universities. Among the Muslim world, Indonesia X introduced in the year 2015 and Edraak only in Arabic from Jordan is offering courses since 2014. However, the one having relatively higher global visibility is Malaysian MOOC offering online courses by Malaysian public sector universities. As of September 2018, there are almost 658 courses and approximately 0.4 million learners enrolled in these courses. Nearly 20 public sector universities including the Muslim world top-ranked University of Malaya are contributing partner for these courses. The Malaysian MOOC is the joint initiative of the Ministry of Higher Education Malaysia and OpernLearning.

The MOOC uses a model in which a teacher delivers a lecture through digital methodologies that get archived on one of the platforms and learners can enroll in the requisite course and learn at a time convenient to them. There are several versions of MOOCs interactive and not interactive also. At social levels, MOOCs aligns with psychological changes that information communication technologies have brought into our lives and fulfills the dream of universal education as everyone having a relatively better version of cell phone and accessibility to the internet can learn from world top-ranked university. Several benefits associated with MOOCs are personal learning through improved pedagogies, improved access to knowledge and its sharing, and easing enrolment burden on universities. MOOCs are considered as a game changer for serious learners and their market and approval rate have shown sustained growth over the past six years of short history.

Since their official launch in the year, 2012 MOOCs experts identified problems linked with pedagogies like accreditation, credentialing, course completion rate by the learners and verification of courses/students’ status besides revenue model. Keeping in mind these limitations, the Coursera has embarked on offering degree programs through its partner universities. In earlier stages, as of March 2018, the planned degree programs to be offered by the Coursera include Master of Computer Science from the Arizona State University and University of Illinois both in the USA; Master of Public Health from the Imperial College London and University of Michigan. A Master program in Applied Data Science will also be offered from the University of Michigan. Besides all the above several MOOCs platforms provide credentialing including online certificates, certificate of attendance and several other options.

The Higher Education leadership in Pakistan believes a 10% growth in the sector and has demanded financing corroborating with growth. This sounds quite intriguing and lucid as the population growth rate in the country is 2% and we are significantly strengthening our higher education through phenomenal growth. As we all know, due to constrained national resources the higher education sector must implement innovative strategies. By following the model of Coursera, all Pakistani universities both public and private should establish a virtual knowledge platform. This virtual knowledge setup should have the flexibility of initiating programs in Urdu and other regional languages also. The Jordan model of “Edraak” platform is worth to follow. Replication of such virtual knowledge houses will not only help us in overcoming literacy problem across the country instead it can ease on the universities burden regarding popular courses enrolment. Malaysian MOOCs are a good example and a reasonable paradigm for the Pakistani universities to follow, where a student at the university have the option of enrolment in MOOCs to achieve credit. This will be an ideal situation for a country like Pakistan that is facing population pressure including educational challenges both at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

As far as the popularity and implementation of MOOCs in Pakistan are concerned. We do not need to have any additional feasibility studies. The Allama Iqbal Open University and the Virtual University of Pakistan already existing and utilising both MOOCs or blended pedagogies. What is needed now is to change our public sector universities set up to incorporate and accept well authenticated MOOCs in their curricula. Several universities in Pakistan are already offering distance education programs that need to be refined and aligned with quality-based MOOCs. Pakistani youth has shown an unprecedented interest in MOOCs provided through both Coursera and edX and their recognition by the public sector universities will ease on their burden.

Instead of asking brick and mortar for strengthening existing infrastructures of universities implementation of virtual or blended setups by Pakistani higher education institutes will create highly competitive jobs and will assimilate hundreds of Ph.Ds. seeking positions within the country. Moreover, a contributor to virtual classrooms development should be offered initiatives if courses developed by him/her have international demands. The revenue should be shared with the person developing a particular MOOC. Already incentives of similar nature exist at national levels like “Research Productivity Allowance” and “Best Teacher Award.” Best MOOC incentive will enthuse young Pakistani faculty to bring miraculous changes in the higher education sector of Pakistan. What is needed is mindset change among the educationist, higher education leadership, their efforts to understand newly incoming pedagogies, proper planning followed by implementation.

 

The writer is currently serving in Malaysia. He is the member of the Malaysian Biosafety and Biosecurity Association; founding chairperson of the IUCPSS and served as Vice Chancellor of three universities in Southern Punjab.