Mapping MOOCs4Inclusion

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A review of existing literature on free digital learning offers, particularly for migrants and refugees, found that they were most effective when they had clear objectives and a target audience, used ‘blended’ and ‘facilitated’ approaches, addressed diverse migrant and refugee profiles and learning environments, and incorporated language learning into their offers.


Free digital learning offers, such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are increasingly growing in Europe. MOOCs are sometimes described as opening up access to education to vulnerable learners, such as migrants and refugees. However, there is still little evidence that free digital learning can meet this expectation. Until now, research has placed little focus on whether free digital learning is an effective or promising tool to include vulnerable learners.

The European Commission, specifically the Joint Research Centre (JRC) aims to partially address this shortcoming by focusing on the offer of free digital learning for migrants and refugees. JRC commissioned a study, MOOCs4Inclusion, to gather evidence and explore the relationship between free digital learning and the development of skills and competences of migrants and refugees, as well as their inclusion in the education system, the labour market and in society.


As part of the MOOCs4Inclusion research team, RAND Europe contributed to a literature review to identify recent research on the use of free digital learning by migrants and refugees in the EU and neighbouring countries. The review is an important first step in establishing evidence about the availability, use and effectiveness of free digital learning by migrants and refugees.


Free digital learning offers were found to be most effective when doing the following:

  • Developing or re-purposing offers specifically for migrants and refugees. This means having clear objectives and a target audience, which takes into account their skills, learning environment, learning needs and culture.
  • Using ‘blended’ and ‘facilitated’ approaches, which is combining digital learning with on-site or face-to-face learning and other support services, such as teacher training and mentoring.
  • Addressing diverse migrant and refugee profiles and learning environments, such as their specific learning needs, their skills (both language and digital) and their access to digital technologies.
  • Prioritising and incorporating language learning into their offers. Many ‘blended’ approaches are already incorporating language learning into their offer to accommodate the needs of migrants that have not yet learned the language of the host country.

A number of limitations were identified within the literature on free digital learning. These include:

  • Little evidence that looks at learners in vocational education, with interrupted secondary education and child and adult learners. The majority of literature is in relation to the higher education sector.
  • Little literature on the diverse types of refugees that have settled in a host country over longer periods of time. However, there is some literature that looks specifically at refugees in camps.
  • Limited literature that understands refugee and migrant participation in free digital learning.
  • Limited recognition of learning outcomes and certification from free digital learning.

Given the fast-changing landscape of free digital learning initiatives, it is likely that more literature and evidence will be available in the years to come.