Edinburgh, Coursera, and Two Kinds of MOOCs

I was thrilled to see my former university, the University of Edinburgh join Coursera as announced yesterday and to see at least one of my courses from the MSc in Elearning being offered there. I am thrilled because I love the spirit of progress I see there, the academic exploration I am sure we will see, and augmented spinoffs from this approach to open learning. I am confident this group from Edinburgh will take it, make it better, or at the very least determine that this approach doesn’t work and move on. So I proceed with my cautious hopes as I am sure they do as well. Truth be told, though, this is a win-win for the consumer who has no intention or capability to attend an on-campus or even online programme.

I still want to make the distinction (perhaps a futile one) between connectivist MOOCs that stress interaction and networks and other MOOCs, which tend to fall towards traditional outputs like content mastery. I used Edinburgh as an introduction to this as I do think the course I mention in particular, Elearning and Digital Cultures, straddles the divide between the different kinds of MOOCs quite nicely and will serve as a nice model when all the dust settles and we realize, again, that there is no substitute for spirited and multi-faceted collaboration in online courses. Not all the courses offered through Coursera and Udacity ascribe to that same kind of constructivist interaction. I think much of that will become apparent after we have had a few cycles through these open courses. Either way, consider signing up for that Elearning and Digital Cultures Course; you won’t be disappointed.

MobiMOOC: the Connectivist kind of MOOC

All that being said, here is my approach for a connectivist MOOC that I will be facilitating (for a week) in September, MobiMOOC. MobiMOOC is a course focusing on mobile learning in as many facets as we can cover. It runs for three weeks in September and one can sign up here. I am responsible for the week on ICT4D, or more specifically mobiles for development (M4D). I have a rough outline there of what I intend to do, which will change considerably I imagine. I wanted to make even the course design process as transparent as possible as I believe that can be a significant learning process as well (for myself and my network). So this is what I have so far. I am considering reverse engineering the discussion to avoid the linear overview>region>problems>projects>impact formula, perhaps to begin with a project and then reverse engineer what aspects of the developing region were trying to be addressed and then work towards stakeholders, theory, etc.


I also realized that when drafting this content, I had accidentally drafted my mantra for open learning, of what the socialization process means when dealing with open courses.

More importantly to this MobiMOOC, I was a student/participant on the first MobiMOOC (2011) and so I feel as though I understand some of the potential for this format for mlearning, as well as some of the difficulties that participants face in such a limitless environment. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to say so in the forums or directly to me. Remember, your fellow students are the key to success in open learning. Rely on and help them early and often.

Either way, here is what is drafted so far. Hope to see you there in September.

Open Questions (add your own)

  • What are your takeaways/goals from this week?
  • What ICT4D projects are you familiar with?
  • What resources should we add?
  • If you could address one issue in your region (developing or not) using mobile technology, what would it be?


  • To introduce current trends in M4D and stimulate discussion
  • To present resource listing of successful and ‘failed’ M4D projects
  • To provide ‘hands-on’ demonstration of M4D tool (Frontline SMS)
  • To provide opportunities for collaboration (in other mobile projects)


  • Why bother with M4D in developing nations?
  • How sustainable are these initiatives?
  • Case study. successful or failed project: What was successful? What wasn’t?
  • How could strategies from M4D efforts assist underserved/underresourced/underprivileged communities in your region?
  • How do you measure success?


  • Activity #1: Introduce yourself, let us know why you are interested in ICT4D, and are you interested in collaboration post-course? Also, let us know what areas you would like to work in or are interested in geographically.
  • Activity #2: Wiki resource of M4D efforts (collaboration)? Add mobile applications or services that you have heard of or are interested in.
  • Activity #3: Case study discussion
  • Activity #4: Real-time presentation on Frontline SMS
    • Speaker 1: Mali
    • Speaker 2: Cambodia: using Frontline SMS to monitor animal diseases
    • Speaker 3
  • Activity #5 (supplemental): Calls for collaboration in group projects


This week will focus specifically on mobile learning (and mobile applications in general) in developing regions, more commonly referred to as M4D. Mobile technology represents the technology of greatest penetration in the developing world and therefore offers an opportunity for development, an opportunity that many developing nations have been quick to seize. We have seen great ingenuity in mlearning projects in developing regions and these range across the disciplinary spectrum. Since we have but one week to discuss these, the mlearning projects we will highlight this week will be those that generally are responses to developmental needs, namely

  • health
  • agriculture
  • literacy
  • governance
  • banking

However, we are starting to see the genesis of mlearning activity in other areas as well, including higher education and business. Further to this activity is the development of mobile applications and products often designed (at least co-designed)in developing nations specifically for the needs of developing nations, a very encouraging trend. Some examples of these include

A presentation will be given later in the week on how to use one of these tools, namely Frontline SMS, for your own mlearning needs. In short, this week will cover the following:

  • M4D background
  • M4D projects: successes and failures
  • M4D resources, applications, and tools

Facilitating Collaboration

In order to involve as many participants as possible, you will find that most of the activities for the week are organized asynchronously, which means that you will be able to adjust your participation according to your schedule. In keeping with the spirit of an open course on mlearning, you will find that all the materials and discussions for the week can be accessed via a smartphone.

There will be one synchronous presentation offered for the week, a demonstration on how to use Frontline SMS for your mlearning projects. However, this presentation will also be recorded and made available through the MobiMOOC course site. As for collaboration, I strongly encourage you to collaborate as often as possible, identify kindred spirits working or interested in related fields, and post calls for collaboration to the discussion board, Twitter, or your blog. You would be surprised how many research projects I have conducted with people I have never physically met.

A willingness to collaborate is in the spirit of a MOOC and it is my experience (in the past MobiMOOC and in other online or mobile learning courses) that these collaborations are some of the most fruitful you will ever experience. So, put yourself out there to collaborate. If you have a project in mind and need help, post it to the discussion board or ask for volunteers. You would be surprised how generous your fellow participants can be with their time, enthusiasm, and expertise. I strongly encourage you to follow some relevant threads to learn more about developments in ICT4D and M4D.

Case Studies

Each of these case studies are taken from the excellent service Mobileactive.org and each represent a different facet of mobile use for development purposes. Please take a moment to choose one or more and read the supporting documentation and respond on the Google Group discussion board. Feel free to use these questions to get you started and create your own and share your experiences!

  • Who is this project serving? How were they not being served by non-mobile projects or services?
  • Is this approach sustainable?
  • Can this project scale?
  • What are the limitations of this approach?
  • What could you apply from this project to projects you are working on or projects in your own country?


More importantly to this MobiMOOC, I was a student/participant on the first MobiMOOC (2011) and so I feel as though I understand some of the potential for this format for mlearning, as well as some of the difficulties that participants face in such a limitless environment. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to say so in the forums or directly to me. Remember, your fellow students are the key to success in open learning. Rely on and help them early and often. I can be contacted (and I encourage you to do so) in whatever social network suits your preference:

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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