Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sri Lanka and MOOCs…will they get along?

Ramón Talavera Franco

Students in Sri Lanka don’t take MOOCs seriously due to a lack of an effective certification system. Sri Lanka has a certificate-oriented education system rather than knowledge-oriented. Master’s degrees and PhD’s are strongly valued. Therefore students look for certifications in whatever academic path they chose.

This is part of my conversation with Dilrukshi Gamage, a Ph.D. in eLearning and HCI student, at the University of Moratuwa, who I met during the MOOC Design and Development of Educational Technology provided by the edX platform. Our common interest in eLearning and the fact that we both are pursuing a doctoral degree helped keep our communication alive after the course was ended, and now we are frequently in contact via different social media software.
A few days ago, Dilrukshi, whose interest in MOOCs has make her take over 24 MOOCs offered from different platforms, accepted a Google Hangout interview to share it in the blog. If we consider that Colombo Sir Lanka, where Dilrukshi lives, is ten and a half hours ahead from Boston, Massachusetts where I live, and that she was connected at 10 pm her time, we can know a little bit more about Dilrukshi’s generous personality.

What is your opinion of MOOCs related to the job market in Sri Lanka?
People in Sri Lanka value certifications. It does not mean that you can’t find a job if you have the knowledge or personality, but this country is a qualification-oriented system. MOOCs are not recognized by companies yet. Therefore, people don’t see the need to insert MOOCs in their CVs. The only benefit taking a MOOC is knowledge. Therefore, students are more like MOOC window-shopping and don’t take seriously the idea to complete them.

Then, why does a Ph.D. student is taking MOOCs?
For subject interest and to know what others think about [that] subject. I see a lot of opportunities for them. I take MOOCs related to e-learning and educational technologies. I get a lot of knowledge from them that I cannot simplify by myself. Even sometimes I don’t finish the courses I grab the knowledge. Once you grab the knowledge, is important to share. If I’m able to teach you or to tell you what I learned, it means I learned it right.

Tell me what you learned from MOOCs.
The importance of social learning. I prefer to work in groups. I call myself an interactive person. Learning by your self does not make any sense. It’s boring. Learning by myself I wouldn’t be able to evaluate my learning because a same concept could be seen in different ways according to the eyes of other persons. I would always like to see that difference. For example both MOOCs: “Digital Cultures” from Edinburg University , and “Future of Learning” from UCL made us connect via Google Hangouts. They had lots of hangouts and lots of conversations. I don’t enjoy those lecture’s types when trying to transmit information. I prefer the conversations, sharing the experience, that’s how we learn best. [In Digital Cultures] we were not restricted to answer only a quiz or make a blog or a video or what ever we can show that we have learned something. We were given flexibility. I could be good at writing a blog while others [could] be good at making videos. We all were given a chance.

Do you have a MOOC provider that you prefer over other?
My number one MOOC provider is Novo Ed. They call themselves a social platform rather than a MOOC. Remembering those courses make me so happy because I met lots of people. It was all about team-work. For instance in “Technology Entrepreneurship” I met 5 people: one from Brazil, three from the States and one from Egypt. We worked together. We had weekly hangouts [and] we all coordinated and supported each other.

What are the negative traits that you have find in MOOCs?
Bad quality. An example is the MOOC Foundation to Virtual Instruction from Coursera by University of California Ivenie. I didn’t like the quality of that course. Videos were made without any effort. [Lecturer talked] to a screen without emotions and sometimes with a cat behind her. That course also had problems with the information given in the course and the information asked in the quizzes. Sometimes they didn’t match. [That] MOOC didn’t promote creativity. 

What changes would you implement in MOOCs?
I would like to see MOOCs change into much more interactive and collaborative. What we need to learn is to collaborate in different cultures; communicate effectively. There is not sense to learn a theory if you can’t make use of it. For example, in Coursera policies say that you cannot exchange assignment information. How are you going to learn if you don’t receive feedback from your assignments? [That reminds me] the course that you and I took together. I think I learned from it very well because they offered more conversational type. I had a group and we worked together. We talked about the lecture, concepts, [and] designed based learning. I learned from their own perspectives.

Do you think that the education system in Sri Lanka will adopt MOOCs?
That I know non- universities are using MOOCs. However, Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT), the university where I studied my undergrad, is recording their lectures, sort of MOOCs type, but they do it internally, they are not interested in having partnerships with MOOCs providers.

Sri Lanka Undergraduate education is free but extremely competitive. Those who are not accepted have to find other ways to continue their studies. Since Sri Lanka is a certificate-oriented society, people require those certifications to be able to find good jobs. The disadvantage of MOOCs is that they are just beginning to offer new certification systems such as badges, nano-degrees or X series certificates that will take time to be recognized in a global society. However, Sri-Lanka educators could work together with MOOC providers to tailor a certification model that adjusts to Sri Lanka’s needs. As I finished writing this post, I read that the Open University of Sri Lanka took an executive workshop about MOOCs to work on future implementation. This is a topic that I’m sure that Dilrukshi Gamage and myself will follow up as it evolves to share in this blog.

Below you will see a 7 min. short clips from Dilrukshi Gamage's interview about her view of the use of MOOCs in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately the software that I used to download the video to edit it in iMovies affected its quality and distorted it. Sorry about that!


  1. Learning is fun- together ,Learning is meaningful - together , Learning is useful - together,

  2. Thanks Ramon, You have done a good job, I hope the world of education will change to a cultre of collaborative learning.

  3. Thank you Dilrukshi for accepting to be the first one interviewed in this MOOC stream project.