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SWAYAM: Inside India’s Massive Bet on MOOCs

Written by Dhawal Shah
6 minute read
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Note: SWAYAM has gone live. Read more about it here: SWAYAM, India’s MOOC Platform, Launches In Beta

SWAYAM, an upcoming MOOC platform by the Indian government, has ambitious goals. It is the one platform that would bind Indian higher education, both online and offline.

Here is one line in the The Gazette of India (basically an authorized legal document of the Indian government) that got me really excited about SWAYAM:

No university shall refuse any student for credit mobility for the courses earned through MOOCs. 

At launch, SWAYAM is expected to have over 2,000 courses, 250,000 hours of content, and over $30 million paid to instructors. Students across ALL universities in India will be able to earn credits on SWAYAM.

A Brief History

At Class Central, we were the first ones to write about SWAYAM when it was first announced back in August 2014.  It was part of the educational initiatives launched by the newly-elected Prime Minister for India, Narendra Modi.

Since then, SWAYAM (short for Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Mindsseems to have hit roadblocks. It was supposed to be launched in October 2014, and with three MOOCs. But it was never launched.

SWAYAM is finally moving forward again, and it might even be launched on August 15 2016 — India’s Independence Day.

University Grants Commission (UGC)

UGC is the government body that is responsible for ”coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education in India.

Last month, UGC published a couple of documents on its website:

  1. a list of MOOCs, and
  2. UGC (credit framework for online learning courses through SWAYAM) Regulation 2016.

On further digging by Class Central, we also found another document entitled “Guidelines for Development and Implementation of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).”

Guidelines for Swayam: India's MOOC Platform from Class Central

These documents contain a lot of details like definition of a course, recording format for videos, how much headroom to maintain in each video (hint: 6–8%), how the credit transfer would work, and so on.

Below we will try to simplify the jargon, and explain what SWAYAM is and how it will work.

Courses

SWAYAM will have the largest course catalog amongst all MOOC providers from its very first day. 

With 2,000 courses expected to be available at launch, SWAYAM will have the largest course catalog amongst all MOOC providers from its very first day.

The courses will range from high school to post graduate level. Soon, we will publish a list of courses that will be part of the SWAYAM platform.

Much of the content for SWAYAM is content that has already been created by Indian institutes and which will be re-purposed for SWAYAM. One instructor whom Class Central spoke to had created his videos and sent them to UGC three to four years ago.

NPTEL (a group of seven Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institutes of Science (IISc)) will contribute about half of the courses. NPTEL has already been putting its courses online on YouTube, and it also hosts its own MOOC platform.

All the videos created for SWAYAM will also be also be available on a platform called e-Acharya. E-Acharya already hosts educational video content created by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. These videos are also available on its YouTube channel and might be re-purposed for SWAYAM.

A sample video from e-Acharya’s Youtube channel

The guidelines also include how much the course instructors will get paid. For the first run of the course, instructors will get paid 9 lakhs ($13.5k) for re-purposed content, or 12 lakhs ($18k) for newly-created content.

With 2,000 courses, in total over $30 million will be paid to instructors. Instructors will also receive ₹1.5 lakhs ($2.2k) for each subsequent run of the course.

Credit Mobility

swayam-signup-page

But SWAYAM’s biggest impact lies in its potential to increase the quality of higher education across India. 

The courses on SWAYAM will be free to take for anyone in the world. But SWAYAM’s biggest impact lies in its potential to increase the quality of higher education across India.

Not only can students learn from the best universities and colleges in India, but they can now earn credits from them via SWAYAM.

The UGC (credit framework for online learning courses through SWAYAM) Regulation, 2016, allows students who are enrolled in higher education programs across India to earn credits via SWAYAM.

Each credit will be equivalent to 13–15 hours of learning activities.

Any academic institution in India can offer up to 20% of its catalog in a particular program via SWAYAM. 

Any academic institution in India can offer up to 20% of its catalog in a particular program via SWAYAM. The institutions also need to provide any resources that students need in order to take SWAYAM courses, like computers or lab space, to those students for free.

To earn these credits, students will need to do all the required assignments/homework for these courses and then attend a final proctored exam. The exam will be held either in the local institute where the student is enrolled, in a nearby institute, or in a proctored center.

The cost for each exam will be ₹1000 ($15).

On successful completion of the course, the institution that taught the MOOC will issue a certificate, along with the number of credits and grades. The student can then get credits transferred into his marks certificate (transcript) issued by the institution that he/she is enrolled in.

Technology

This is the most worrisome part about SWAYAM.

SWAYAM was originally supposed to be built using Open edX, but now it seems it will be built by a team at Microsoft.

Earlier in June, Microsoft was selected as a technical partner for SWAYAM. The deal is worth Rs 38 crore (~$6 million) and Microsoft will deploy a team of dedicated people to develop and maintain SWAYAM.

When The Indian Express asked R. Subrahmanyam, Additional Secretary for Technical Education at the Ministry of Human Resource Development, about the choice of Microsoft over Open edX, he replied that “All that appears ‘free’ is not always free!” You can read more about the entire saga here.

Building a fully-fledged MOOC platform is a major undertaking that other providers have already been doing for years. By not re-purposing a platform that already exists and which is used by a global community (e.g. Open edX), the SWAYAM team will have to start right from scratch.

They will have to learn everything that the MOOC provider community has already learned. This might cause quite a few hiccups in the first few iterations of SWAYAM.

At the time of writing this post, I was not able to find out which domain SWAYAM will be hosted on. We will be updating this article as soon we know.

Dhawal Shah is the founder and CEO of Class Central, the most popular search engine for online courses. You can see which courses he is taking here — class-central.com/@dhawal