Free online courses, known by the acronym Moocs (massive open online courses), have the potential to educate anyone, anywhere and reach the world’s under-served. Why then, are these courses – which are labelled “open” and offer to take an unlimited number of students – not reaching the majority of learners in the global south?
Data from the first wave of Moocs proves that openness alone will not enable new students to take part in online education. Even if a course is free, language, learning design, learner support, quality, authenticity, accreditation, institutional appropriateness and cultural relevance can all exclude students.
Practical access issues – both physical access to the internet and proficiency in digital literacy – can be barriers to learning, but so two is curriculum design. Despite talking enthusiastically about widening access, the global north – as University of São Paulo professor José Dutra de Oliveira Neto puts it – “did not ask us what we want.”