Online courses for cash-strapped students


Kenya is ranked 124th in literacy rate worldwide and fourth in Africa. More than one in 10 Kenyans cannot read or write.

For those who can, their skills are getting obsolete faster than those of the generation before them, thanks to fast-changing technology.

To remain relevant in the labour market, constant upgrade of skills is no longer an option. It is a requirement.

In the past, students who aspired to attend top-ranked universities would need strong scores at national examinations, and the resources to fund tertiary education.

Now, with video streaming tools, videoconferencing programs, and the ability to share and edit documents online, anyone with a broadband Internet can gain access to college and graduate-level education.

In particular, massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which are open-access online courses that allow unlimited participation, are said to have revolutionised universities and corporate education, at least in high income countries.

There are many institutions offering free online training, equipping learners with skills that could give them a leg up on the competition.

Today, several platforms produce content specifically for online instruction. Examples include Coursera, Udacity and edX, which provide university-level content. In addition, the Khan Academy targets secondary school education. While these platforms offer content designed specifically for web-based instruction, they differ slightly in mission, delivery and focus. partners with universities and organisations around the world to bring a wide variety of topics and perspectives to one searchable database. It is a powerful tool for free online education.

Another great option is edX. It brings together free courses from many schools and has impressive, quality information.

A very convenient place for free online education is iTunesU, because it integrates seamlessly with your iPod, or any app-ready Apple device. On iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, users download the iTunesU app.

Partnering with many post-secondary schools, Khan Academy offers a useable, well organised interface. It also curates many courses from around the web and offers impressive depth on many subjects. Khan Academy is among the more well-known educational sites and is incredibly useable, making it easy to keep learning goals.

But these courses are not without drawbacks. The Harvard Business Review says that in the past three years, over 25 million people from around the world have enrolled for courses on these and other platforms.


Research has revealed that only a small percentage of these millions complete the courses — in many cases, less than 10 per cent. These low completion rates are due to poor course design, “lecture fatigue” from courses that are just lecture videos, lack of proper introduction to course technology and format, clunky technology and abuse on discussion boards.

Some learners have cited hidden costs, including required readings from expensive textbooks written by the instructors, and significantly limited students’ access to learning material.

Other non-completers were “just shopping around” when they registered, or were seeking knowledge rather than credentials. Workload, length and difficulty of a course have also been blamed for dismal rates of completion.

Studies also suggest that people from developing countries report benefits from MOOCs more frequently. These people, with lower socioeconomic status and less education, are said to be more likely to report benefits. It appears that MOOCs are tangibly helping people who take the time and the effort to complete courses.

The Internet has become an imperative infrastructure for individual and community development. Access to the Web could offer a life-line to students who cannot otherwise access advanced education due to distance, cost, and many other barriers.

Article writer: Wambugu is an informatics specialist.

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