Thousands of miles away from Boston, Radhika Ghosal has learnt about circuits and electronics from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ghosal, 16, a Class 11 student, signed up for a free, four-month programme offered by MIT online.
She is one of many Indians thronging Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), a distance learning initiative that allows students from across the world to access online video tutorials from the best colleges. Indians are the second largest registrants (after Americans) on two of the biggest platforms – Coursera and EdX, where universities have made lectures available for free.
On EdX, 13% of learners are Indian and 28% from the US. On Coursera it’s 8.8%, compared to 27.7% from the US. “The teachers are amazing and you can learn what you really want,” said Ghosal, who has registered for another computer science course.
While an early version was created in 2008, MOOCs are being called the future of education by experts and analysts, owing to fewer seats in colleges, high tuition costs and more young people seeking higher education.
Students sign up to add to their resumes, or simply to learn something new. Certificates of completion from the participating university are offered in some cases.
“MOOCs offer Indian students the chance to learn from the best professors in the US and Europe,” said Raj Chakrabarti, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), via email. “Given the limited capacity of seats at top US and Indian universities, these features enhance the competitive edge of Indian students in the global job market, and can also improve their chances of admission to top US and European colleges and graduate schools.” More than 1,00,000 Indians have signed up for courses offered by CMU.
However, to be sustainable, MOOCs need to be accepted as mainstream. “The high enrolments of Indians seems to be more due to the novelty of accessing high quality international education in India,” said Amit Garga, a senior principal at the consultancy firm Parthenon group, who has worked with education providers on online strategies. “The primary desire for tertiary education in India and other emerging markets is to secure employment. Unless local universities and employers start giving credit to MOOCs as valid alternatives to classroom based education, MOOCs are unlikely to sustain themselves among Indian students.”