The basics of Chinese language, principles of functional programming and history of rock music… They are just some of the topics of massive open online courses available to the interested course participants. Everyone can apply to these courses, and there are numerous advantages – from flexibility in terms of time and place of attendance, to free access to numerous learning materials. The classrooms of Universities all over the world have never been closer, but to what extent are these learning opportunities used in reality? And what are the ingredients for successful online course attendance?
Online course attendance in Serbia
According to the data of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia from 2017, on average, 5% of persons in Serbia stated that they attended an online course in the last three months. This percentage is not much different from the European Union average that is 7% (EUROSTAT), although there are certain European countries in which this rate is rather high – for example, each fifth person in Iceland reported this activity. Decision on whether to engage in an online course seem to depend on age, but not to a large extent – data indicate that this activity in Serbia may equally appeal to 50-year-olds as well as 20-year-olds.
Still, the percentage of people deciding to take this step is still very low, and the potential to use online courses in adult education is still insufficiently exploited.
Online courses and adult education – barriers and opportunities
What we have to have in mind when considering the ways to make the access to online courses really open to all?
The basic precondition is the Internet access. The number of the Internet users is steadily increasing year after year, although there are still persons who are not the part of the digital community. Yet, this number significantly exceeds the number of people opting for online course attendance, so there are some other decisive factors.
Apart from the Internet access, digital literacy may be a key condition. Following lessons and completing the tests within courses requires certain digital skills. One of the solutions for this obstacle is to design special online courses adjusted to course participants with the basic levels of digital skills. There is an interesting example of “Free Online Learning” course (Gratis Online Lernen) awarded with national award for adult education in Austria. During this course, the participants set their own learning goals, learn how to find learning materials on the Internet and share their experiences in this field, that is very important for their future independent online course attendance.
Foreign language knowledge may represent and additional challenge for the Internet users in Serbia, as most of the courses are available in English. It is encouraging that there are more efforts on translation of video material subtitles and that certain online courses are fully developed in Serbian, so they are available to more people. For example, in this field, there is the initiative of the University Library “Svetozar Marković“ for the translation of online courses and learning materials.
Finally, one of the obstacles that can seriously threaten the number of online course participants is if they are not informed of their availability. Findings of a research with students indicate that most of them do not know that these courses are available, which may be the case with wider population, too. One of information strategies may be to work with teachers in the field of adult education. This kind of approach was developed within one Erasmus+ project "OER Uptake in Adult Education Institutions" marked as good practice, within which an online course for teachers in the field of adult education was created as a guide through ways in which open educational resources can successfully be used in practice. One of possible options could be the creation of database of online courses available in Serbian, through different platforms.
Classrooms of the world become closer through cooperation
In spite of challenges, massive open online courses can surely be a useful resource in adult education. Although these courses are usually independently attended, it does not mean that they should not be supported by practitioners, so that the largest possible number of individuals would have an opportunity to check whether this type of learning suits them, and the courses should be designed with quality and in accordance with the needs of the participants. Only through networking of the existing initiatives, researchers and practitioners in the field of adult education, it will be possible to use the valuable online resources that are just a mouse click away.