Will MOOCs Work in Refugee Camps or Is "Democratizing Education" Just Marketing Hype?

In February of 2014, Reda Sadki, Senior Learning Systems Officer in the Learning and Research Department of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, uploaded this video of his interview with Barbara Moser-Mercer - the "lady who did a MOOC in a refugee camp."

Although the case study that Prof. Moser-Mercer describes only involved two learners in Dadaab, Kenya - I think it deserves to be part of the larger ongoing conversation about MOOCs.

In this video, Prof. Moser-Mercer speaks eloquently and convincingly about the potential of online learning in places -  in this case Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp - where traditional higher education is not available.

It's difficult to imagine a more challenging environment for learning than an insecure and arid refugee camp with 500,000 residents on the border of war-torn Somalia.  But that is where Prof. Moser-Mercer, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Geneva, has chosen to do her heroic work. 

The refugees that Prof. Moser-Mercer worked with come from cultures that support sharing and communal activity (eye-opening for me, because I'm only familiar with the competitive approach to education that my students have pursued to gain entry to exclusive higher education in China and the West ).  

And in Dadaab (as in other places outside Western capitals) a certificate verifying a marketable skill can be a life-changing goal. 

In other words, a higher education at a premiere university isn't the only or optimal goal... and a MOOC can offer education for an entire community that co-learns with the student who is actually pursuing a certificate.

I'm ashamed to admit it, but this short video has forced me to reconsider (mitigated) my skepticism about MOOCs.

If you're an educator - or concerned about how the web can democratize educational opportunities - maybe it will have a similar effect on you.

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