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Insights from using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in Refugee Camps

An interview with CARE International's Case Management Officer in Jordan's Azraq refugee camp reveals valuable insights about using MOOCs.

Photo of Dina Bokai
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Are you in the MOOC business? Perhaps you're an E-learning enthusiast or a MOOC addict of some sort? Maybe you're just curious about the advantages and challenges of learning with MOOCs in refugee camps. 

If so, read below to learn three preliminary yet valuable insights about using MOOCs in refugee camps, fresh from the field...

As a MOOC Design and Operations Manager at - the first not for profit MOOC platform for the Arab World, I am always collecting insights from our learners to improve the design, usability, and impact of our courses. 

Recently, an excellent opportunity to collect such insights presented itself, and it could not have been in a more suitable setting for this challenge than Jordan's Azraq Refugee Camp!

A few days ago, I learned that CARE International in Jordan has been offering several of Edraak's MOOCs in their community center in Al Azraq refugee camp. Excited that our courses have finally reached the people that probably need them the most, I pulled out OpenIDEO's interview toolkit and arranged for an interview with Miss Hiba Sarhan - the CARE Case Management Officer. Here are some observations and insights from my interview with Hiba. 


In 2014, CARE Jordan started offering four of Edraak's MOOCs in CARE's community service center in the Azraq Camp, namely; Child Mental Health, The Arab Contemporary City, CV Writing and Human Resource Management. 

*The courses were selected based on their availability at the time. 

Weekly MOOC screenings were announced at the community center, where a facilitator screened the video lessons on a shared screen, facilitated a discussion around the content, explained MOOC questions and assignments, and helped participants submit their answers online.

Observations and Insights:

  1. Traditional Barriers to Participation Exist
  • Female participation was low; more than 90% of participants were male.

When I asked Hiba why she thinks this is the case, she identified household responsibilities and childcare as key factors. 

  • Computer illiteracy was a motivator for older participants.

Despite the provided assistance, some participating refugees dropped out of the courses due to difficulty navigating the platform. Other refugees considered navigating the platform a challenge they were willing to overcome and learned to use the platform, without assistance, by the end of the course run.  

Surprisingly, the latter scenario applied to participants in older age groups, e.g. a 74 years old participant.

  • Insufficient number of equipment led to long queues.

A hunger for learning encouraged participants to endure waiting in 4 hours long queues to take turns to submit answers online. Hiba mentioned that she expects the situation to get better with the help of the recently brought in Ideas Box.

2. Offline Meetups Lead to Better Learning

Hiba noted that low levels of interactivity in MOOC design, despite the availability of discussion boards, was frustrating for participants. Yet the fact that MOOCs were taken in a classroom or a group setting meant that facilitators were able to create interactivity through live discussions. Learners were encouraged to ask questions and share personal reflections and experiences. Nevertheless, given that facilitators were non-subject matter experts, some learners' questions were left unanswered and concepts not fully understood.

3. Topic Relevance is Key 

During our interview, Hiba could not stress enough the importance of teaching topics that the refugees can withdraw lessons from for their communities. Hiba also mentioned that learning transferable skills, that could be showcased to potential employers or used to serve the local community, is what refugees value the most.

"The refugees really enjoyed the Child Mental Health course; they learned a lot and did not want the course to finish. I expect that they will  enjoy the teacher training course - Teach Like a Champion."

My interview with Hiba left me with loads of food for thought to reflect on in terms of MOOC design. Would you draw out different insights? Which observation or insight stood out to you the most?

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Photo of Amir H. Mazrouei

This is fantastic!
Dina thank you for sharing.
We are based in North of Iraq working with the community leaders at the refugees' camps.
We were looking for Arabic online content and we will consider the MOOCs for our refugees' camp in the near future.
From the technical/infrastructural point of view, do you know anything about how they offered ICT services (Internet connectivity, etc.), space, and enough staff for such a project at the Azraq Camp? Do you know anything about their challenges?