MOOCs for teacher professional development: Moving beyond the cascade method

40 minute session)

Mr Dan Wagner and Mr Mike Trucano | Presentation (PDF)

International Literacy Institute and University of Pennsylvania



The recent rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has generated significant media attention for their potential to disrupt the traditional modes of education through ease of access and free or low-cost content delivery. 

The popularity for MOOCs is borne out through increasing demand for post-secondary enrolment, predicted to increase from 150 million students in 2009 to 250 million students in 2025. MOOCs have a distinct advantage in that they use technology to scale and are able to provide education to many more individuals, more quickly, than traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Not only do MOOCs hold out the prospect of greatly expanding capacity to meet the growing demand worldwide, but they also offer the potential of enabling access to high quality education by all persons regardless of socio-economic status, even in the most impoverished and under-served regions of the world. 

In the present Symposium, the problem of how to improve teacher professional development (TPD) will be specifically addressed. Until recently, TPD has primarily depended on the 'cascade method' whereby a cadre of well-trained teachers spend time teaching other teachers who may in turn teach other teachers. In this method, the wisdom and experience of the best-trained teachers is shared across time, settings and contexts to others. New ICTs – and especially MOOCs – have an opportunity to 'flatten' this cascade by offer more direct contact between expertise and the recipients, if they have access to the Internet. Of course, the 'if' is a major challenge. In this Symposium, the concern is less about access to technology than to the issues of how and when to utilize MOOCs in an age where mobile technologies are rapidly increasing.



Dan Wagner is the UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy, and professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is director of the International Literacy Institute, co-founded by UNESCO and the University of Pennsylvania (; he is director of Penn’s International Educational Development Program (IEDP) in graduate study. After an undergraduate degree in Engineering at Cornell University and voluntary service in the Peace Corps (Morocco), he received his Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Michigan, was a two-year postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, a visiting fellow (twice) at the International Institute of Education Planning in Paris, a visiting professor at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Paris. Mr Wagner has extensive experience in national and international educational issues and has served as an advisor to UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank, USAID, Department for International Development (DFID) and others on international development issues. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Anthropological Association and the American Educational Research Association. His most recent multi-year projects have been in India, South Africa and Morocco. He has served as Chair of the Brookings Global Research Task Force on Learning.

Mike Trucano is a Senior ICT & Education Specialist in the Human Development Network (HDNED) at the World Bank.

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