Capacity Development in the Water Sector: the case of Massive Open On-line Courses

Capacity Development in the Water Sector: the case of Massive Open On-line Courses

Mayfield, C., 2017. Capacity Development in the Water Sector: the case of Massive Open On-line Courses. UNUINWEH Report Series, Issue 01. United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Hamilton, Canada.

The Sustainable Development Goal 6 targets are all dependent on capacity development as outlined in SDG 6a “Expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation related activities and programmes “. Massive Open On-line Courses (MOOCs) and distance learning in general have a significant role to play in this expansion. This report examines the role that MOOCs and similar courses could play in capacity development in the water sector.

The appearance of MOOCs in 2010/11 led within 4 years to a huge increase in this type of course and in student enrollment. Some problems with student dropout rates, over-estimating the transformational and disruptive nature of MOOCs and uncertain business models remain, but less “massive” MOOCs with more engaged students are overcoming these problems.

There are many existing distance learning courses and programmes in the water sector designed to train and/ or educate professionals, operators, graduate and undergraduate students and, to a lesser extent, members of communities dealing with water issues. There are few existing true MOOCs in the water sector. MOOCs could supply significant numbers of qualified practitioners for the water sector. A suite of programmes on water-related topics would allow anyone to try the courses and determine whether they were appropriate and useful. If they were, the students could officially enroll in the course or programme to gain a meaningful qualification or
simply to upgrade their qualifications.

To make MOOCs more relevant to education and training in the water sector an analysis of the requirements in the sector and the potential demand for such courses is required. Cooperation between institutions preparing MOOCs would be desirable given the substantial time and funding required to produce excellent quality courses.

One attractive model for cooperation would be to produce modules on all aspects of water and sanitation dealing with technical, scientific, social, legal and management topics. These should be produced by recognized experts in each field and should be “stand-alone” or complete in themselves. If all modules were made freely available, users or mentors could assemble different MOOCs by linking relevant modules. Then extracts, simplified or less technical versions of the modules could then be used to produce presentations to encourage public participation and for other training purposes. Adaptive learning, where course materials are more tailored to individual students based on their test results and reactions to the material, can be an integral part of MOOCs.

MOOCs efficiently provide access to quality courses at low or no cost to students around the world, they enable students to try courses at their convenience, they can be tailored to both professional and technical aspects, and they are very suitable to provide adaptive learning courses. Cooperation between institutions would provide many course modules for the water sector that collectively could provide excellent programmes to address the challenges of capacity development for SDG 6 and other issues within the water sector.

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