If you heard the word MOOC would you know what I meant? No pressure – until a few months ago I’d never heard the word.

MOOC
muːk/
noun
noun: MOOC; plural noun: MOOCs
1. a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.
‘anyone who decides to take a MOOC simply logs on to the website and signs up’

This autumn I enrolled in a MOOC led by one of COINS Foundation’s patrons – Sir Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University. Whilst admittedly I do have an academic background in development, there is no prior qualification needed. According to EdX, the MOOC provider, it’s aimed at anyone with an interest in economic development, from university students and people working in government and NGOs, through to education and business professionals, and active and engaged citizens who are passionate about the development of their countries.

The course was called ‘From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development’ and is completely free. Over six weeks, watching short lectures delivered by Collier, we looked at the role that governments play in boosting economic development and the social factors and external conditions that are necessary for development. If you think the world is an unfair place already, this course looks at trade flows, capital flows, labour flows and international governance (most of which are controlled by rich countries), and you’ll realise it’s more unfair than you ever previously thought. This particular MOOC took up about 2-3 hours a week of my time, some take longer. So not long really – about a season and a half on Netflix.

What do universities get from offering MOOCs? The digital revolution is forcing universities to change their offerings. The way that students experience education is changing rapidly. Online and blending learning is now a major part in the way their students study. Oxford University has a Digital Education Strategy in order to prepare themselves for this new environment and establish a framework.

My first graduate job aged 21 was in widening participation. I worked mainly with sixth formers and 12 and 13 year olds across Merseyside, but my team also worked with adult learners. Those who were looking to get to university via an access course (in place of ‘A’ Levels, and explore adult and professional education. After all why should university and further study be restricted to 18 year olds? MOOCs successfully expand education beyond the classroom. I’d like to think that MOOCs are one way of democratising education and making it freely and more widely available to all, at any stage of life.

At the moment I’m reading The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, written by a pair of economics professors, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. When I was little, all I knew about turning 100 was that it was impossibly old and you got a telegram from the Queen. Nowadays it’s a card. The Queen’s ‘Centenarian team’ has had to take on extra staff to cope with the demand of our ageing population. If I’m lucky, by the time I’m 100 it’ll be a text message or an e-card, though most likely nothing.

Throughout the book Gratton and Scott describe hypothetical lives for individuals born in 1945, 1971 and 1998 respectively. It’s assumed that each decade later one is born, we gain another few years of life. More than half of babies born since 2000 (in wealthier countries) will reach 100. So how are we going to adjust our lives to cope with the likelihood of living longer? Is the three-stage-life of education, employment, and retirement going to cut it anymore? In short, no. We’re going to have to replace this with a ‘multi-stage life’ – a series of shorter stages of employment, entrepreneurship, part-time work, a return to education, re-skilling, re-training and so on.

Will my generation ever be able to retire? What about my children’s? In the traditional sense of the word it seems unlikely. Certainly not at 65, and certainly not on a 50% final-salary pension. Later retirement is inevitable, and probably a much more flexible one too. We’ve already seen a softening in boundaries between work and leisure time, and this is set to increase.

I think a lot about the future and what’s in store – for me, for others, for the planet. I’m lucky enough to have been born in a prosperous and democratic country and at a time with options and choices, and I’m aware that billions in the world don’t have these freedoms. Even within wealthy countries like the UK, US and Australia, income remains the biggest indicator of life expectancy. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to study, travel, work, learn a language, up-skill, retrain and make a difference to society – do it!