Transforming the experience

The rigorous quality checks that the online courses hosted on SWAYAM make casual learning more meaningful

Due to the massive advent of technology, our ecosystem is expanding exponentially. Smartphones, computers, internet, and social media are an integral part of our day-to-day life.

Education is not immune to this digital innovation and every great institution around the world is jumping on the bandwagon. India is no exception to this. The Ministry of Human Resource development (MHRD) developed SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) portal. Similar to course providers like Coursera and Udemy, SWAYAM has been built as a platform on which MOOCs (massive open online course) is delivered. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has introduced choice-based credit transfer system for courses on SWAYAM.

Two types of courses are currently available in SWAYAM: scheduled courses and self-paced courses. Scheduled courses will have a start, end, and enrollment end dates. Students who wish to receive certificates or credit transfer need to find the right course, enrol, and register for examination (for a small fee). For self-paced courses, anyone can enrol in these courses at any point of time. The different categories of subjects that are being offered on SWAYAM portal include engineering, humanities, science, mathematics, management, arts and recreation, library and information science, besides others.

The Indian version of MOOC follows the four quadrants approach: 1. video lecture, 2. reading material, 3. self-assessment tests, and 4. an online discussion forum.

While a whole host of information available on YouTube, Google, and Wikipedia, what is so unique about MOOCs? To answer this question, we need to understand the holistic approach that is followed in developing MOOCs that are hosted on SWAYAM. The motivation is to take the best teaching-learning resources to all — including the most disadvantaged students and those from remote areas — at no cost to the learner.

Quality assessment

When something is freely available, it is understandable that everyone suspects its quality. Moreover, students are unfamiliar with both the course contents and the teaching ability of instructor. There is no one-to-one interaction between the students and the course instructor. All these lead the students underestimating the quality of the course content, and the expertise of instructors.

In order to remove this concern and to deliver a course of international standards, a rigorous quality assessment process as prescribed by MHRD is being followed in developing a MOOC by the national coordinators like UGC, Consortium for Educational Communication (CEC), and National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL). The course development process is thoroughly monitored. The course contents are reviewed by two subject matter experts of international repute for accuracy and relevance. In addition, all e-contents (video, text, animation etc.) need to be certified by a multimedia expert. Finally, an all India Academic Advisory committee approves the course to be launched on the SWAYAM portal.

The duration of the course, the number of modules, credits, and the level of difficulty for each MOOC varies. Many researches have shown that the attention span of students vary from eight to 10 minutes. Keeping this in mind, each MOOC module is split into small chunks so that it is easier for students to follow and understand the topic. Almost all the modules have a small introduction to the concept from which the topic is built to a higher level and ends with a summary which recaps the important points.


Students tend to take the MOOC less seriously or casually than their regular courses because they are not monitored continuously. For example, they may not view the video entirely or may read the e-contents superficially. They may not be fully engaged due to other commitments. They may tend to skip test and assignment submission. It is very difficult to detect whether they indulge in unfair means like cheating and plagiarism. Finally, they lose nothing if they drop out of a course after registration due to lack of self-motivation. Unless these limitations are overcome by students, it will be difficult to transform casual learning into a meaningful learning under MOOC settings.

The writer is Associate Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and is currently developing MOOC courses for UGC (PG) and CEC (UG).

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 5:51:13 AM |

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