Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

MOOC can’t be the substitute for learning in the classroom


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: MOOC

Mains level: Paper 2- Adoption of MOOC and issues with it.

Massive open online courses (MOOC) could not be panacea for the problems education faces. It can’t be the replacement for the learning in the classrooms. This article highlights the issues with adoption of MOOC and why it can’t be the replacement for learning in the classrooms.

UGC circular to adopt MOOC

  • In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University Grants Commission had issued a circular to universities.
  • Through this circular, it encouraged them to adopt massive open online courses (MOOCs) offered on its SWAYAM platform for credit transfers in the coming semesters.
  • But the move poses a great danger.
  • But why it’s danger? Because it is also being seen as an instrument to achieve the country’s target Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education.
  • GER in higher education is envisioned to be 30% by 2021; it was 25.8% in 2017–18.

Issues with MOOC and what classrooms offers

  • MOOC-based e-learning platforms tend to reinforce a top-down teacher-to-student directionality of learning.
  • This misses the point that teaching and learning are skills that are always in the making.
  • The teacher is after all “an intellectual midwife” who facilitates in the birth of students’ ideas and insights through engaging in critical dialogue.
  • In a conducive classroom environment, this role is often switched and the student plays intellectual midwife to the teacher’s ideas.
  • Moving to a MOOC-based degree system would rob young teachers and students of these essential lessons in teaching and learning from each other.
  • Policymakers behind the SWAYAM platform have left out courses in engineering, medicine, dental, pharmacy, nursing, architecture, agriculture, and physiotherapy on the grounds that they involve laboratory and practical work.
  • This move makes sense.
  • But it seems to suggest that the pure sciences, the arts, the social sciences, and humanities curricula are largely lecture- and theory-based, and, therefore, readily adaptable to the online platform.
  • Nothing can be farther from such a misconception.
  • Implicit in every curriculum is the tacit assumption that the classroom is a laboratory for hands-on testing of ideas, opinions, interpretations, and counterarguments.
  • A diverse and inclusive classroom is the best litmus test for any theory or insight.
  • Multidisciplinarity happens more through serendipity — when learners across disciplines bump into each other and engage in conversations.
  • Classroom and campus spaces offer the potential for solidarity in the face of discrimination, social anxiety, and stage fear, paving the way for a proliferation of voluntary associations that lie outside the realm of family, economy, and state.
  • In the absence of this physical space, teaching and learning would give way to mere content and its consumption.
  • Without a shared space to discuss and contest ideas, learning dilutes to just gathering more information.
  • This could also dilute norms of evaluation, whereby a “good lecture” might mean merely a lecture which “streams seamlessly, without buffering”. 

Online mode: add more value to the classroom education

  • One could think of greater value-sensitive and socially just architectures and technologies that further foster classroom engagement.
  • It also makes it accessible for students of various disabilities and challenges, thereby adding more value to the existing meaning of education.
  • But public education modelled on social distancing is a functional reduction and dilution of the meaning of education.
  • It could add value only as an addendum to the classroom. 

Consider the question “Examine the issues with wide adoption of the MOOC to address the problems education  sector in India faces.”


Such platforms must be seen only as stop-gap variants that help us get by under lockdown situations and complement classroom lectures.

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