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The Future Of Online Ed Isn’t Heading Where You Expect

Photo caption:

Photo by David Stanley Flickr

Queens Royal College, a historic secondary school in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

A new pioneer has just planted its flag on the ed-tech frontier: the country of Trinidad and Tobago. Its government this week announced the creation of a "national knowledge network" to promote free online learning in partnership with Khan Academy and Coursera. The initiative is part of a broader national strategy of investment in education. The oil- and gas-dependent Caribbean nation is trying to transform itself into a knowledge economy. For observers of ed-tech, meanwhile, the news represents a possible future path for Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs — not as a replacement for a college degree but as a resource for hybrid and lifelong learning, made in the USA and exported around the world.

Visitors to will find a curated selection of video-based courses, divided into categories like "entrepreneurship" and "creativity." For some of these courses, Trinidadians will also be able to go to their local campus of the University of Trinidad and meet in person with a facilitator as well as with others taking the same course. It's a global version of the flipped classroom, where the lecture may have been recorded at Vanderbilt or Rice, but the class discussion's unfolding thousands of miles away. Coursera calls this the "Learning Hub" model. There are currently Learning Hubs located at embassies, libraries and universities on five continents.

So, what's really new here? Well, this Trinidad and Tobago effort takes the level of coordination up a notch. Their focus is on connecting MOOC-powered learning to jobs. Graduates from Learning Hub programs will receive a government-issued certificate of participation from They'll also be eligible for an internship program with more than 400 participating employers. This edgy strategy is part of a larger trend of the nation investing hugely in education. Since 2010, education has received the highest budgetary allocation of all government ministries, representing 18 percent of the country's annual expenditure and 6 percent of GDP (above the US, at 5.4% of GDP). Trinidad and Tobago spent $250 million last year on classroom laptops alone.

Meanwhile, in the bigger picture, scholars and the big development agencies like the World Bank and Unesco are increasingly interested in the potential of MOOCs to open up education in the developing world. "MOOCs for Development" was the topic of a conference at the University of Pennsylvania just last month with more than 25 countries in attendance, and the UN is holding a forum on a similar topic next month.

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