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...

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