Promoting Inclusive Higher Education in the digital age: Wrapping massive open online courses (MOOCs) for youth from marginalised communities in South Africa

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic led to the global shutdown of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) forcing the move from residential campuses to online learning. In South Africa, the shutdown further exacerbated the lack of access to Higher Education (HE) amongst youth, which adds to higher unemployment rates and perpetuates the cycle of poverty with detrimental consequences for society. However, in 2020 the forced move to online learning, and the use of freely available Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provided an opportunity to rethink accessto HE for youth from marginalised areas. In some cases, a blended learning approach has been adopted by universities to provide more flexible pathways to HE. The wrapping of MOOCs follows a similar process but can be specifically used to be inclusive of students traditionally excluded from HE. The aim of the research explores the extent to which wrapped MOOCs made in South Africa could serve as effective ‘boundary objects' for students to experience HE. This research aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) specifically in relation to the fourth goal that targets inclusive and quality education and promotes lifelong learning for all. It explores how MOOCs, if wrapped or blended in a face-to-face programmes could prepare young people from marginalised communities for the workplace in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The research aims to explore the characteristics of two wrapped MOOCs made in South Africa to make them more accessible to youth from marginalised communities. The researcher utilised a case study methodology and employed ethnographic methods to explore how MOOCs were wrapped to make them more accessible to youth in marginalised communities in South Africa. The cases were two learning contexts where MOOCs were wrapped for the youth from those communities. The data was analysed using concepts from Wenger-Trayner et al.'s (2015) Landscapes of Practice. One of the key concepts is the boundary object, which can ideally play a mediating role between knowledge practices across contexts. It can thus grant different forms of access to those who would otherwise have been excluded from specific ways of knowing, identity work and experience of digital technologies. The data found that some students were unaware that MOOCs existed. Students desired and accepted that MOOCs could be part of an offering of HE programmes or courses but mostly agreed that they would not take it on their own as they required the digital literacy, computer facilities and Internet to complete it. They preferred that it was wrapped within a face-to-face programme. Still, once they experienced taking it, they saw themselves as knowledgeable in taking MOOCs and the confidence to take online courses in the future. They attributed the social and epistemological access they received more to the programme than to the MOOCs. Most participants did not want MOOCs to replace HE institutions as they valued face-to-face engagement, that the wrapped MOOC format made possible. But the opportunity to learn on a digital platform and work online made them feel more equipped to choose their own pathways in the HE landscape. The study culminated in a set of characteristics that could make wrapped MOOCs effective ‘boundary objects'. The research recommends that future MOOCs be wrapped to be inclusive of these characteristics to enhance social and epistemological access to HE for students from marginalised areas. The contribution of this research would be to create a list of principles that allows for relevant MOOCs out of approximately 13500 MOOCs, that currently exist, to be used, adapted and wrapped by the HE sector or various stakeholders that provide training, education and skills to youth in marginalised or refugee communities. The Covid-19 pandemic shutdown impacted on the popularity of MOOCs where platforms like Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn attracted as many users in one month as they did in an entire year of 2019. The significance of the study was evident during the HE shutdown when access to educational resources became crucial in the remote and online teaching format. The research contributed theoretically in terms of applying a landscapes of practice framework to understand and extend online and blended learning provision to marginalised communities. Future studies can take the recommendations of this research and apply the list of principles to wrap MOOCs and other online courses within particular landscapes of practice to explore their effectiveness in promoting access to HE.