Coursera MOOCs: One step forward, Two steps back


Sorry! It has been a while since I last blogged, but I’ve been crazily busy. ‘Blame’ the exam period, but now I’m back and stronger than ever! Just as I was starting on writing a blog post about the next big step in MOOCs, I was devastated by a blog post by Coursera itself, shared to me yesterday by my Iranian friend Saleh. Worst news I’ve heard all week, but first things first: The step forward.

The Step forward

Anyone that knows me a little knows that I love MOOCs. My passion in life is lifelong learning and MOOCs are the perfect (FREE!) tool for that. On LinkedIn (about a week ago), a post appeared about someone who had ‘completed an MBA’ with MOOCs. Only problem: MOOCs aren’t the same as a real MBA. That’s mostly got to do, in my eyes, with the marking of the coursework and exams. Coursework is all reviewed with peer reviews, making the marks highly subjective to the knowledge and expertise of other course mates (that should be at the same level as you). If a lower level student marks you, you will probably get a higher grade and vice versa. Next to that, the exams on a MOOC are all (as far as I have seen) multiple-choice and thus never go really in-depth at the material. The tools don’t reach so far that they can automatically grade an essay question and schools don’t have the resources to grade every exam of 16.000 MOOCers individually. Until now! I am really excited that Coursera has included the option of “Specializations”: sequences of separate MOOCs about one single topic that end with a step-stone project combining all skills a participant has gained together. The value of this is not in the sequence of MOOCs, that is something that one could do already, but in the final project. I have not been able to figures out how these are going to be graded. Assuming that these projects will be graded by academics and that they are challenging enough, this will overcome the grading flaw of MOOCs today. This would really add a lot to the value of MOOCs and may pave the path of acceptance of the certificates by the professional world. If, however, the projects are again going to be graded by peers, the impact will be much less. It will be really interesting how this is going to proceed in the future.

Two big steps back

MOOCs have thus taken a big step forward for most of the Coursera population. ‘Most’, because since today there has been a restriction on the MOOC community. The value and of MOOCs is that they allow lifelong learning, for everyone at any place at any time. This is what separates MOOCs from universities (with high fees, physical locations and entrance tests) and gives it its unique character. Until today.

Restricted by US regulations, inhabitants of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, will no longer be able to get on the Coursera platform ( This is outrageous. People are being denied the possibilities that all other people in the world do have: expanding of knowledge, personal growth and invaluable relationships with other MOOC participants, only to name a few. A similar thing happened in my home country, The Netherlands, in 2008 where Iranian students were prohibited on studying nuclear power. But this MOOC restriction goes even further. Not only are Cubans, Iranians, Sudanese and Syrians prohibited from learning about ‘possible threatening’ areas such as nuclear power, but they are restricted from every single Coursera MOOC. What possible harm could it do for a Cuban to learn about Gamification, Sports and Society, or even Early Renaissance Architecture in Italy?! This really gets me mad. In my opinion, in the current digital age, all people should be able to learn about the things they find interesting and valuable. But now, this awesome possibility has been shattered by the US government. Thanks, for intervening in our lives again and shattering this beautiful opportunity for gaining knowledge and learning about each other’s lives, cultures and experiences. It’s such a shame that a great step forward is getting overshadowed by such a big step back.


7 thoughts on “Coursera MOOCs: One step forward, Two steps back”

  1. What a ridiculous measure by the US! I don’t see the point either..getting close to just bullying those countries for the fun of it.
    On another note, I’ve never done a MOOC course before but I like your blog posts about it. Maybe we’ll have a chat in the future about it, and you can explain all to me 😉

    1. Hi barbs! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I’ve completed 5 MOOCs so far and totally loving it. Next step on the list is learning to code, so I’m now doing a MOOC on that as well. We should def have a chat about that (and all other things) when I get back to Holland 🙂 Speak to you soon!

  2. That’s a shame. Isn’t it something that can be circumvented by operating from another country? Kind of like Thepiratebay hosting their activities from.. Panama or whatwasit. I suppose that’s quite a procedure – wouldn’t only have to transfer servers but also register as a company in a whole other country.

    Granted I just happened past your post and don’t have much knowledge on the subject of MOOCs, but seems to me that if Coursera is passionate about open learning on a global scale, now is the time to make a statement and relocate to Scandinavia or another area where there is less internet censorship.

  3. Friend, Even though this is a shameful decision by these companies and I have experienced similar stupidities by other organizations , This is only a IP block and you and other bloggers can educate people of ways to backdoor these policies. People in Iran already have no legal access to facebook, Tweeter and other stuff but they use it. Using VPNs and other tools to get through IP blocks.

    1. Alireza, you probably know that I’m familiar with different backdoor ways! But with your logic we shouldn’t complain about any filtering in the internet, because there are some backdoor ways which people can use. We are exactly complaining about the contradiction between their aim and their behaviour.

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