Publish at January 23 2023 Updated January 23 2023

Why and how to make MOOCs a common good?

Giving yourself the means to implement your policies

In a context fundamentally marked by fierce capitalism, talking about the "common good" may seem idealistic. For, everything has a price and nothing is given away without compensation. And yet, the particular attention that we pay to the question of ecology nowadays, forces us to take an interest in this subject. So what is a commons?

A commons is a set of material or immaterial, public or private resources collectively decided as being accessible and/or managed by all "in common, in the service of the common good," as Cécile Renouard (2012) would say. When we speak of the commons, a multitude of realities can be taken into account following the example of education, which is a very particular commons.

With technological advances, there have been several initiatives to make education accessible through MOOCs (massive open online course) for example. However, the sometimes high cost of these courses limits access to the certificates sanctioning the end of the training, especially in sub-Saharan Africa,[1] which can hinder its access to the large number. And yet, these MOOCs are a great opportunity for the African continent and more particularly for its sub-Saharan part. Such an observation leads us to question the validity of making MOOCs a common good.

Distance education is valued thanks to MOOCs

The Internet has this capacity to reach the greatest number of people at the click of a button, in one's room or living room, without having to travel. This, some designers of MOOCs have understood. Because, originally, and even today, the initiators of this form of education, notably the two Canadians Stephen and Downes in 2008, and later two professors from Stanford University, thought of making an open school of this kind available to individuals, in order to share cognitive resources with the whole world. This is all the more true since Thierry Curiale, director of the Open Collaboration Learning program at Orange, recognizes this when talking about Coursera (an American MOOC platform), noting that this platform's objective is to make a large mass of knowledge available to a large number of people[2]. We recognize a moral dimension[3] in this action of sharing that reveals in the background the notion of common good. Does this mean that MOOCs invest the sphere of the common good?

Certainly, access to education is a fundamental right enshrined in normative devices following the example of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in its Article 26 which states that "everyone has the right to education". Consequently, it is a particular common good as recognized by Jean Pierre Proulx[4]. However, this access to education, which is meant to be massive, is conditioned by its free access. The same is true for MOOCs, which is an analogy of education. That is to say, for MOOCs to be accessible to all, they would have to be free in order to reach the greatest number even if some of them already are in reality.

For those that are paid, their cost although set by the institutions that provide them, individuals pay an average of about ten euros[5] to obtain a certificate of completion. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford this privilege, given that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the daily income rate is estimated at between 4 and 20 dollars, the equivalent of 3.75 and 18.58 euros[6]. It is clear that this criterion automatically disqualifies people from this area who are interested in any kind of training. And yet, the original objective is quite noble, since it serves as a vault for the fulfillment of a fundamental right that would be common. Consequently, it would be logical that this vault that is the MOOC invests the sphere of the common. Apart from this idea, also should be mentioned the ability of MOOCs to meet the professional and even academic needs of the moment.

The MOOC meets the academic and professional needs of the moment

To be at the service of humanity, to create initiatives and to influence its environment, such is the objective of any person wishing to lay his stone for the construction of a surplus value in the history of humanity. This is the way to describe the initiative of those behind the MOOCs. Such a philanthropic initiative seems even more interesting when one observes the different levels of development of countries in the "North" and "South". Consequently, it would be possible that access to knowledge that could be considered as new is not accessible to all depending on the geographical area where one is located. Hence the interest in making free online course initiatives accessible to all.

Although it must be recognized that their development requires a strong investment, as Christine Vaufrey notes, the development of MOOCS requires a lot of time to be more precise, we are talking about hundreds of hours of preparation[7]. Patrick Jermann does not see things differently when he acknowledges that "a MOOC represents a good hundred hours of work, from the design to the supervision of students during a semester. One hour of video represents at least 4 hours of studio recording for the teacher, in addition to the time spent scripting and preparing the material."

However, all this hard work is worth it since very often these MOOCs are intended to solve a current, one-time need. It is in this perspective that Matthieu Cisel asserts that the MOOC is capable of filling an educational gap whether it be at the academic or professional level[8]. This vocation, because it allows him not only to put instruction within reach of all, but also new knowledge must be welcomed.

The MOOC has this ability to fill the educational gaps recorded in sub-Saharan Africa. However, certificates from this type of training are accepted with great reluctance in some universities and yet, it can be considered as a proof of the student's docking to the new digital logic. This demonstrates the learner's abilities in teleworking, a factor that sometimes counts when looking for certain jobs.

Unesco to achieve its goal in education, namely education for all, could commit to funding or setting up policies to fund MOOCs in order to make them accessible and free throughout the world. While free does not guarantee access for all, as not all countries have access to energy and other tools necessary for MOOCs to function, it could help increase the rate of access to education.


[1] Aaron Akinocho, 2019, "MOOCs between fantasy and reality, what impact on education in Africa," online

[2] Hello Future, 2017, "Mooc, knowledge and skills at the click of a mouse," online

[3] Mathieu Cisel, "MOOCs to "share knowledge" and "respond to a need for training", online

[4] Jean Pierre Proulx, 2004, "Education, a special common good", OpenEditions Journals, Vol 6, No 1, online .

[5] Chauveau Julie, 2021, "Why should we care about candidates who have completed MOOCs?", DigitalRecruiters,

[6] Laurent Bigot, 2017, "Yes the poverty rate in Africa is falling, but the number of poor people is rising," The World Africa, online

[7] Christine Vaufrey, "Very expensive MOOCs... have the means to produce academic MOOCs. Alternatives exist," Thot Cursus

[8] Matthieu Cisel, "MOOCs to 'share knowledge' and 'meet a training need,'" Online,

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