A MOOC for the developing world?


I had a brief talk with the wonderful Kelsey Wiens (@bella_velo on Twitter) about MOOCS and learning and translating what we do into more specific contexts, and she asked pointed me to this article about Starbuck encouraging staff to take undergrad degrees by subsiding tuition.

Which got us thinking about South Africa, and how something like our MOOC tools might be used there. She challenged me to come up with answers to these 2 questions, and so I’m throwing them open to everyone…

Would P2PU be able to help design a MOOC that
a) helps educate the SA population to understand SA history (and hopefully some fun history facts like "did you know about the dude who was a counterrevolutionary for the ANC and escaped from Pretoria prison by building wooden keys!!)


b) would it be possible to align some current MOOCs (coursera & eduX) and localize them for SA and make them accessible for SA business and young employees to gain knowledge (i.e. practical experience)

They’re pretty big questions, but I’d love to hear people’s ideas, especially @dirk, @1L2P @jane and @ralfe and anyone else who has experience of the particular needs of the developing world.

I think the current Wikipedia Zero project, where mobile service providers zero-rate Wikipedia, effectively making mobile (and computer) access to Wikipedia free might be a useful way to start thinking about this.


Hi @bekka,

It certainly is an interesting idea. I think that MOOCS have a huge potential for use in developing countries such as here in South Africa. I have a few thoughts though that might be relevant:

  • A concern I have with the first question (a), is with the perception of foreigners teaching locals about their own local history. Like most national groups, South Africans can be very patriotic and proud of the culture and heritage, spotted as it may be. I worry that their reaction to a “foreign” or international organisation proposing to teach South African’s about South African history might not be as positive as you would hope for, and might be seen as inappropriate and arrogant. This will be amplified if it is seen by the target audience as “white” people teaching “black” people about “black” history. There are already loud sirens sounding in my head.
  • My second thought was to question why you would want to offer a course specifically on South African history? I feel that if there is to be effort expended on creating a MOOC targeted at the average South African, there are more relevant topics to explore. Although this is of course highly subjective.
  • Regarding the second question (b), I frequently take Coursera courses, and they are of excellent quality, but are always heavily branded with the associated University insignia and branding. I wonder firstly, if it will be legally possible to accomplish a localisation of these courses, and secondly, I wonder if the courses offered will have maximum impact for the South African public.
  • If I were asked what courses should be built to bring about maximum impact on an online educational effort targeted at South Africa, I would probably say things like: Permaculture, Sustainable Living, and Basic Business Skills. I was recently involved as a project implementer in a project which brought similar types of training to Deaf school children, and it has been quite successful so far. Also perhaps a course on Health or First Aid might be very useful, as health care in general is really bad in the more rural areas.
  • One technical consideration is that the majority of South Africans who access the internet, do so on a mobile device. Smart phone penetration is at over 43% at the moment, and most with feature phones do not access the internet in to any meaningful extent. On the other hand, only a small percent of South Africans own a Desktop or Mobile computer. Thus, whatever initiative is undertaken for the South African market, I would adopt a mobile-first technical strategy (http://bit.ly/1nPbdix).

I hope some of those comments were useful.

Kind Regards,


While I don’t think learning SA history has to be all that bad or that there is a specific race group more in need of history education than other groups or that it wouldn’t be useful, I do think it is a difficult topic. But then again, I say go for a more challenging topic - SA culture!

Mobile first is definitely a must in SA. There are ways to reach feature phones - I know Siyavula release some resources through mxit.

I think the biggest challenge we have in SA is the target audience. It would be easy to reach people that already a degree (the typical MOOC audience), but reaching people who never went to university would be challenging.


Hey Bekka! I don’t have much experience with (nor am I fan of) MOOCs as they are currently defined – massive, one-to-many type courses. But one example that may or may not be useful is the CoprightX course by the Berkman Center at Harvard which got a lot of CC affiliates excited and on board to run local satellites in their countries: http://copyx.org/satellites/. The name made a difference in terms of partnering with the institution in their jurisdiction.

With CC Nigeria, we are planning to run a more peer and open friendly version of a copyright/OER/CC licensing course as part of SOO Africa launch in September. What we are doing is pinging all the past participants to see who might be interested in volunteering to help run this adaptation – and we’ve got lots of interest so far.

I don’t know if any of that helps, but fyi!

Kelsey is our SA affiliate so I’m sure you’ve heard of some of this already. :smile:


I think the SOO courses are a great model that could be scaled in South Africa or other developing countries.

Many of the MOOCs from Coursera and others are focused on technical skills and my not need any (or much) adaptation. What are some of the concrete changes Kelsey would like to make?


Always makes for an interesting start to your day when @1L2P pings you on twitter.

This came on the back of
a) Watching a documentary about SA history called [The Vula Connection][1]n about which is a pretty cool true spy story about people escaping from prison using wooden keys and about a early communication tool to allow for the ANC in Lusaka & London to communicate with what was happening on the ground. (there is no wikipedia page for this, there is very little on the ANC site)

b) I am part First Nations (Cree) and the situation in Canada is not all together dissimilar to that of South Africa. (broad strokes) But someone sent me [> Skills for Solidarity][1] It’s designed to open a discussion around the shared history. Ideally this MOOC would be a model I’d like to follow but perhaps take it a bit out of a academic sense and instead share some of the cool stories. I mean a story about white guy operating as a ANC spy who build wooden keys to escape from jail is a rad story for everyone.

Sidebar: I’d like to pitch to Rlabs that they bring their very successful leadership courses to P2PU, get the guys some badges. Effectively get RLabs to certify their own courses.

Very quickly commentary on some of the comments above

  • I took the CopyrightX course. It was fantastic but not localized. Was entirely american law focused. Not bad but not helpful when trying to understand issues in your country. Localization!
  • I’m in discusions with the Praekelt Foundation, they do cool things with USSD. Mxit shedding users like Eskom (custom made SA joke)