Using MOOCs to get refugees into college

collage of refugee images with superinposed text

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Classes in which students could study college-level material for free, were initial seen as major disruptive force in education.

It didn’t happen.

Even when they were free, many students didn’t find them worth completing.

Higher ed has learned from the experience, and begun seeking better ways to use their assets—all those highly skilled professors—to greater advantage.

One of the most intriguing MOOC applications I’ve seen was reported in the March 1 weekly newsletter. Here’s what it says:

Berlin-based Kiron works with refugee students to put together an online course of study, rigorous enough to provide entry into a partner university’s second year of study. Using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Kiron helps students master their new country’s language while studying basic prerequisites for a chosen university degree. Already working with more than 1,500 students in Germany, Kiron recently expanded into France.

With less than one percent of all refugees able to access higher education, MOOCs help get new students to the necessary level of knowledge for in-person university study. Kiron also provides off-line support including study buddy programs and career guidance. Once a participant completes the two-year online program, he or she has the opportunity to enroll for free (as a second year student) in one of Kiron’s partner university’s programs.

If the model works for refugees who have to master another language in order to get maximum benefit from college-level work, it seems to me that pairing free online educational content suited to students’ career objectives along with off-line support might be a solution to some of America’s skill-gap problems.

What do you think?

Kiron offers internships and volunteer opportunities in Germany and the possibility for people with special skills such as tutoring or programming to volunteer remotely.

How else could you use this?

I get many newsletters that give me useful information.

I don’t get many that really make me think. offers its Innovation Bulletin free
One of the very few is the Innovation Bulletin from Springwise, an independent, London-based innovation publisher, scans the globe for the most promising innovation and new business ideas.

At Springwise we believe that the route to the finest innovation ideas and creativity on the planet is via entrepreneurs and the businesses they create. We discover and share those ideas with our readers and the people, businesses and institutions who want to be outstanding in their field.

The articles in my free weekly digest (there’s also a daily version) tell me about innovations around the world. It’s fascinating reading.

Springwise hooks hooked me

What has most intrigued me, however, is not the inspiring stories but the closing hooks on the stories. They move readers beyond “that’s cool” to think about how to adapt or build on the basic idea presented in the story to solve some different problem.

A story about 3-D printed car parts ends with this question:

What are some other consumer needs of future driverless passengers?

A story about Dutch supermarket staff keeping an eye out for signs of loneliness or neglect in >older customers as part of the Super Care initiative ends with this:

Are there other initiatives that could combine employment and public service in this way?

A story about a mobile app that offers curated museum guides for each visitor, based on their profile, interests and learning style ends with

Could other real-world experiences — such as entire cities or theme parks — be customized in this way?

Hooks for educational uses

The technique Springwise uses could be easily adapted to educational settings to stimulate creative thinking, innovation, and problem solving.

Instead of presenting examples of solutions to problem X in the field of horseradish, for example, present examples of solutions to problem Z in the field of sequoias.

In a composition classroom, students might read a short passage related to the course and be asked,

Are there topics in other subjects you’re studying that could be organized on the same pattern as this article?

In a faculty meeting, instructional staff might be given a short passage about hiring employees and asked,

Are their problems in our school that could benefit from the the feedback technique used here?

In a community meeting, people might be given an article to read (or a short video to watch) about a student group working on a community problem and asked,

Could any problems in our community be turned over to young people to solve?

If questions about how to adapt and re-purpose information and techniques are asked often enough, they could move students—and maybe some “it’s always been done this way” educators—to doing some original thinking.

Wouldn’t that be a good idea?