Online Education Updates: the Possibilities for Non-Formal Education for Marginalized Groups

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

The article of New York Times on March 4 questions the validity of alternative certifications issued from digital learning opportunities.  In recent years, the number of online learning site courses which offer certifications are increasing. David Wiley, a professor and expert of new online courses of Brigham Young University, predicts that in the near future, alternative forms of certification will also come to the center arena in addition to the traditional diploma. What supports Wiley’s assumption is the recent trend that many people who only obtain online credentials still get a well-paid position in an established companies, such as Google. .  There are attempts to utilize online certification to better specifying the skills the person  has learned. The global foundations such as Mozilla and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are now working on the system of educational “badges”, which clarify what exact skills the certificate holder has learned.  Microsoft’s skill qualification for their products is an established example of the badge system.

Some educators doubt the possibility of online certification as an alternative respectful certification unless the issue of cheating is solved. Based on their current experience of online learners who use double accounts to get a perfect score in a few minutes.  For example, Stanford University is aware that if their online courses offer credentials, the issue should be seriously taken into consideration.  In order to cope with the issue of the honor code, the possibility of protected test centers has been considered.

Bridging formal education to non-formal education

The discussion over alternative certifications through digital learning raised in the article is particularly intriguing, when I consider it within the scope of ICTs and Non-formal education (NFE) in developing countries. In developing regions, where NFE is often the sole opportunity to learn, finding ways to bridge the NFE opportunities into formal education systems is crucial to create access for underprivileged students to enter secondary or vocational education programs.. For instance, the established Bangladeshi NGO, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) offers four-year Non Formal Primary Education (NFPE) for out of school children.  Students can obtain the certificate that has the same value to primary education as in the formal schooling system.  According to BRAC, many of the graduates of NFPE are going on to secondary education. In this context, if the issue of cheating is taken into account, the idea of alternative certification through online courses has strong potential for the marginalized students.  If programs like BRAC’s NFPE provide online courses, it may reach a broader range of learners who lack access to formal education not only because of geographical issues but also because of gender, social classes, and cultural issues.  Again, it also allows a path to secondary/higher education or other training opportunities.


YouTube for Education (Screen Shot from

Open Education

Besides the issue of certification, here I will focus on the aspects of the  “openness” of digital learning. Nowadays, if you have a digital device, which is connected to the Internet, you can easily enjoy plenty of digital learning opportunities. For instance, The KhanAcademy offers free online education, with special focus on high-quality Math and Science education.  Although English is still the main medium of instruction of the Khan Academy’s programs, there are ways to utilize those programs in formal and non-formal education in developing countries.  In some of these countries,  where English is the instructional language for Math and Science, Khan Academies programs can be used to support dropouts in returning school, for example.  The Khan Academy is now working on captions in number of languages.

Also, YouTube for Schools, Teachers and Education covers a wide range of content from primary education to tertiary and lifelong learning (The videos of the Khan Academies are also found there). With ALISON, there are a wide range of free online trainings. Interestingly, ALISON has diploma-level courses for free, which covers English Language and Literature, Business and Legal Studies, Psycology, Mathmatics and so on.  In this regard, online learning can support non-formal education in developing regions by expanding the reach of learning with a variety of learning content.

ALISON (Screen Shot from

However, when it comes to online learning, as a means of non-formal education for wide range of learners in developing regions, we realize that challenges remain. We should be fully aware of culture and languages when creating digital educational content.  As our class readings Adely (2009) and Arends-Kuenning & Amin (2001) illustrate, education in different settings can result in different effects or impacts on people. Speaking of languages, there are attempts to get rid of common linguistic obstacles. For instance, many of the lectures on have captions in multiple languages with the help of volunteer translators across the globe. For example, Ken Robinson’s “Schools kill creativity” offers caption in 54 languages.

In the end, it is certain that there are challenges to utilizing online tools in non-formal education for the marginalized groups.   Not only must we consider the content issue but also the availability of electricity, Internet connection and its speed. Yet, as the article of New York Times suggested, both the rapid progress in online education (for-profit and non-profit) and initiatives for alternative certification make me believe that online learning may go beyond the traditional dichotomy of “formal” and “non-formal” education systems in the near future.



“Beyond the College Degree, Online Educational Badges” By TAMAR LEWIN on March 4, 2012, New York Times.
Adely, F. J. (2009). Educating Women for Development: the Arab Human Development Report 2005 and the Problem With Women’s Choices1. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 41(01), 105. doi:10.1017/S0020743808090144Arends-kuenning, M., & Amin, S. (2001). Women’s Capabilities and the Right to Education in Bangladesh. International Journal of Politics, 15(1).


Posted on March 12, 2012, in Non-formal education. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Thanks, Naoko. I think you have successfully brought up some of the most popular reasons why ICT education is so popular and enticing for many who work in development. One thing I’d like to add is how are these online education programs differing from face-to-face learning models. In other words, just as when we transfer classroom techniques across locales it is important to pay attention to the context, then shouldn’t we also be critiquing online education models that seek to replicate the classroom–> online. That’s not a desirable use of ICT for education in my opinion. The computer and internet should make us think about learning in a way that differs from how it’s done in classrooms. Just my two cents.

  1. Pingback: Computing education: we already know about it! « ICTs for Bottom of the Pyramid

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