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MOOC innovation from the bottom of the pyramid


The late, great, CK Prahalad’s finest legacy is the notion that a great deal of innovation and growth can be derived from developing economies that were traditionally not seen as worth the while of big companies.  The latest such innovation to arrive from developing nations is arguably the way Brazil has taken the MOOC approach to online learning and made it work.

Thus far, most of the main MOOC networks have taken a broadly similar approach to their work.  That approach has typically seen the chalk and talk lecture moved online and forming the bulk of the teaching delivered.  Sure, there are discussion forums to attempt a more social approach to learning, and some offline study groups have emerged, but this has largely been adhoc and of debatable success.

In Brazil however, things are done altogether differently.  Leading the way is Kroton, the largest for-profit higher education company in the country, with a stockmarket value of around $8 billion.  At the heart of what Kroton offer are a network of hundreds of local teaching centres staffed by moderators.

Their most well-known operation is Unopar university, in Londrina.  They are the biggest supplier of distance learning in Brazil, with 150,000 students enrolled across 500 centres around the country.

Lectures, just as in MOOCs, are delivered online, and they’re delivered by teachers with huge reputations as a result of their work.  Accompanying the lectures are weekly get-togethers that see students watch a class broadcast, which is then followed by a moderated discussion.  The aim of the sessions is to ensure that students are enjoying their learning and are on track for completion.  What’s more, the sessions provide invaluable feedback to the university on how students are finding the work.

The purchasing power that Kroton possess allow them to procure learning materials at a very good price, which, coupled with the largely online delivery mechanism have allowed Kroton to reach into the poorer areas that remain stubbornly reluctant to have anything to do with MOOCs.

The journey taken by private suppliers in Brazil reflects many of those taken by first generation MOOCs.  There have been rapid growth in respond to a market need, followed by concerns over quality, which resulted in quality marks awarded to each course by the federal education ministry.  What’s more, government funding is only offered to students who graduate from their course, thus creating a tangible incentive to only admit those likely to achieve good results.

It seems inevitable that MOOCs will evolve from their current state.  They’re in that tricky period where growth has been rapid, but expectations, whilst probably over-inflated, have not really been met.  Maybe they will benefit from looking at Brazil for inspiration for their next steps.

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