Coursera creates learning hubs, with eye on interaction

Coursera’s offerings may be online-only, but the massive open online course (MOOC) platform will soon have a physical, and socially interactive, presence in nearly 25 countries.

MOOC students who had a facilitator were more likely to complete the course.

From Seoul, South Korea, to La Paz, Mexico, Coursera is partnering with local institutions to create “Global Learning Hubs,” the company announced Oct. 31.

“The very core of our mission is that we believe anyone in the world should be able to learn without limits,” said Yin Lu, lead of growth and international outreach at Coursera. “There are a lot of limits people face in getting an education, so we asked, ‘how can we set up an infrastructure beyond what’s currently available locally in their cities?’”

The answer was to collaborate with local and international partners, including the U.S. Department of State and Digital October, to utilize existing spaces that could be turned into physical locations to take Coursera courses for free.

Initially, there will be learning hubs at 30 embassies, American Spaces, campuses, and other physical locations around the world, including Iraq, Haiti, and the Ukraine.

The spaces won’t just be for connecting to the internet. (In fact, at least one hub won’t even have internet access — the remote location will instead make use of pre-downloaded course material.)

The hubs will also provide an opportunity for Coursera students to learn the material among peers and with a facilitator, much like a blended classroom.

See Page 2 for details on how Coursera recognizes the need for interaction in MOOCs. See Page 3 for our poll.

The massive enrollment numbers of MOOCs have caused the courses to struggle in capturing the collaborative environment of a traditional classroom.

Coursera’s Global Learning Hubs are, in some ways, a recognition of this failing, and a way to merge the two modes of education.

“We’ve seen in many case studies so far over the past year that having these small physical spaces, and a facilitator, and local students has yielded really fantastic results,” Lu said.

In one case, she said, where students worked with each other and a facilitator to complete a MOOC, 60 percent of the class finished the course. Another case, in which 14 U.S. Embassy American Spaces utilized a similar method, saw 40 to 70 percent of the students complete the MOOCs.

The average retention rate of a traditional MOOC is just 10 percent, a point of criticism among MOOC detractors in higher education.

While the goal of the Global Learning Hubs is to provide a more equal opportunity for accessing education, the spaces raise some of their own equity concerns. Each hub will be operated, staffed, and furnished by the partner, which means that not every hub will offer the same learning experience.

Lu said Coursera wants to give its partners the latitude to run their hubs as they see fit, but that the company does provide guidance, as well as resources to make sure all of the spaces operate from at least the same base level of technology.

“We’re engaged with partners to make sure they have the suitable space and means,” Lu said. “We’re trying all we can to make sure we don’t put a financial burden on anyone, and these organizations are kind of on that same page, driving to the same missions of  getting education to students.”

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