How MOOCs are Transforming Entrepreneurship (& Why You Should Care)

I want you to do something really quick.

Go to Google Trends and check out what pops up when you enter the word “entrepreneurship.”

Did you do it?

Okay, pop quiz time. What did you see?

When I did it, I noticed two things. First, the highest volume of searches for the word are coming from 3rd world countries in Africa: Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Kenya.

Second, Coursera comes up as a very related query.

If you put those two concepts together, you’ve got a clue about where the future of entrepreneurships is headed.

A Developing Trend for Developing Countries

As a Fledge incubator mentor, I’ve noticed the trend of entrepreneurship picking up a lot of momentum in Africa.

Last year, I worked with a fantastic scientist and thinker named Geoffrey Ssekatawa, the founder of Brent Oils. He used his education to solve a horrific problem in Uganda and all over the region: the dumping of used motor oil in bodies of water and landfills. By paying people to give their used motor oil to him, and then recycling it for a profit, Geoffrey is changing lives – one landfill at a time.

This is happening more and more, with enterprising people using education and entrepreneurship to break free from their economic and societal shackles.

The question is, how are doing they do it?

Introducing MOOC for Entrepreneurship 

I know… MOOC is a silly word. But it stands for something truly meaningful: Massive Open Online Course.

The MOOC is a collection of online courses openly accessible via the web to an unlimited number of participants. You have probably had your brush with MOOCs, whether you knew it at the time or not.

Here’s a brief list of MOOC sites:

  • Coursera
  • Khan Academy
  • EdX
  • Udacity
  • Academic Earth
  • Udemy

Some of these sites are nonprofits with courses that are free to the public. Others are primarily commercial.

Some of the courses are taught by traditional university professors, while others are taught by experts in private industry.

Some are pre-recorded videos, while others are live or interactive classes.

Some offer nothing but knowledge, while others also offer credit, certifications, and other designations upon completion.

So, what’s the common denominator?

It’s that — with enough time and dedication — virtually anyone with access to the right MOOC can gain skills they need to make incredible contributions to the world.

For instance, if Geoffrey hadn’t attended college, he may have relied on MOOCs to learn the very same things that would help him set up a profitable business AND save the environment.

And he’s far from the only example of intrepid entrepreneurs in Africa who are creating businesses with a socially conscious slant. Thanks to the internet, we’re routinely shrinking both the knowledge and distance gap between the developing world and our own.

The Limitations to MOOC Learning

You knew this was coming…

As wonderful as this opportunity is, there are definitely still some obstacles to overcome. First and foremost, MOOCs do require enough infrastructure to support computer equipment, internet connections, and electricity. This isn’t always possible in many places.

More than the equipment limitations, though, there’s the problem that many of the millions of young adults across the developing world lack basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.

But the biggest obstacle so far is simply that people in these countries don’t know about MOOCs. A sobering 79% of non-users have never heard of them. There’s also the problem of time — just like in the United States, people in developing countries are busy and may not have the bandwidth and schedule flexibility they need to take full of advantage of these courses.

It’s not easy to solve all of these problems, but there is good news for those who have the skills and want to participate: We’re seeing initiatives in the works to help improve opportunity for students in the developing world.

One example is SocialEDU, a joint effort between Facebook and MOOC site EdX to deliver free, localized educational content on handheld devices to students in Rwanda. As awareness grows about MOOCs and the vital role they play in improving job skills and preparing users for further education, hopefully these obstacles will get knocked down, one by one.

Already, we’re seeing signs that lower education levels in developing countries are correlated with higher certification rates. That means MOOCs are having a measurable impact on everyone, not just the rich and well-educated as those who can’t access conventional education channels turn to online courses. 

What Could MOOCs Do for You?

The coolest thing about MOOCs is just how new they are. These online courses didn’t really hit their stride until roughly 2012, and in just a few years, they’re completely upending hundreds of years of traditional education. It’s an exciting time to get involved in education and entrepreneurship!

That’s why it’s my hope that you take this post and use it as inspiration for your future success. Most of us have incredible advantages: accessible drinking water, shelter, electricity, internet, cars, phones. And with MOOCs, a whole word of education is literally at your fingertips.

I’ll leave you with one simple question.

If MOOCs are enabling people in distant lands to pick up the skills they need to give entrepreneurship a go, what could you do with a few choice online courses?

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