MOOCs in India: A (giant) untapped audience

Over the past few weeks, we have been exploring the roles—real and potential—of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in improving higher education around the world.


As the country that is home to the second largest audience for MOOCs (after the United States), India provides an excellent example of both the opportunities and challenges the courses face globally.

With only about 12 percent of its college-aged population enrolling in higher education and a large percentage of its schools rated below average, India needs a better system for higher education.

In an article for the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Advanced Study of India, Gayle Christensen and Brandon Alcorn, who recently studied the student population of 32 Coursera MOOCs, discuss the potential advantages and obstacles to adopting MOOCs as a possible solution.

Indian students currently comprise about 10 percent of students enrolled in Coursera’s courses. Most of these students are young, male, and educated and live in urban areas.

This profile is consistent with that of MOOC students overall—by and large, they tend to be well educated, with about 80 percent already holding at least a bachelor’s degree.

As critics have pointed out, this is not the target audience many imagined for MOOCs: the courses were meant make education available to everyone, not just already-privileged students. In their article, Christensen and Alcorn describe three things that need to happen for MOOCs to democratize education in India.

Technology: First, the technological infrastructure needs to be developed to provide better Internet access for the country’s population. This can happen through both efforts toward worldwide connectivity and increased support of mobile technologies.

As I described in a post last week, organizations are working to accomplish both of these goals, in India and elsewhere.

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