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US government promotes MOOCs as university “test drive”

The US State Department has partnered with online education provider Coursera to create learning hubs at select embassies around the world. The hubs will provide a blended learning environment around the Massive Open Online Courses available on the Coursera platform with the aim to promote the US as a study destination.

The USA's MOOC Camp in Bolivia

The average size of the learning hubs ranges from 15 to 40 students

Through the MOOC Camp initiative, students will attend weekly discussions at the embassy to supplement the courses offered via the online platform. They will also meet with an advisor from Education USA, the government’s international student recruitment branch.

“MOOCs offer students interested in studying in the United States an unparalleled opportunity to ‘test drive’ a US education, and we believe that they will ultimately attract students to study in the United States,” a spokesperson for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs told The PIE News.

“MOOCs will ultimately attract students to study in the United States”

With 46 participating Embassies and Consulates in over 30 countries including South Korea, China, India, Tunisia, Georgia, Bolivia, and Finland, the average size of the learning hub ranges from 15 to 40 students, most of whom are university-aged.

Volunteer alumni from US government exchange programmes, including the Fulbright programme, who are familiar with the course content will lead discussions on courses focused on STEM subjects, Americana, Entrepreneurship, and English.

On finishing the course, Coursera gives students a certificate of completion and while some embassies hold graduation ceremonies, it is too early to tell whether foreign governments will formally recognise these courses.

“These MOOC Camps take place at our American Spaces and at Coursera’s new network of Learning Hubs around the world.” Evan M. Ryan Assistant Secretary at the US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs said. “It’s going fantastically.”

Coursera has over five million users and is currently partnered with around 100 universities globally. While the hubs will choose the English taught courses based on the comfort level of the students, Coursera does offer classes taught in 11 different languages including Arabic, Chinese, Ukrainian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Kazakh and Turkish.

The company claims that its users maintain higher completion rates of 60%, compared to the average rate of 6%-7% for MOOCs in general.

Partnership with Coursera in the venture is not exclusive says the State Department. Other online providers include the Havard and MIT venture edX and Open Yale. However, Meghann Curtis, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for academic programs told The New York Times that Coursera has had a unique interest, collecting the data to understand the learning outcomes from facilitated discussions and providing additional materials to give out to the facilitators.

Coursera has over five million users and is currently partnered with around 100 universities globally

“We are all very ecstatic that we are partnering with a diverse group that have a mission to connect people to great education and connect people to a world where education can be a human right,” Yin Lu, who leads growth and international strategy at Coursera told The PIE News.

“Our first goal is to find out how effective these learning hubs are. Can we see it impacting communities when it comes to getting job interviews?”

Students can get involved by contacting the US Embassy in their country and participation is free to all. While only select US Embassies are taking part at this point, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs said the programme may expand to include more countries in the future.

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