Knowledge as a Public Good

Author:Sharmini Coorey

Knowledge as a Public Good Finance & Development, September 2016, Vol. 53, No. 3

Sharmini Coorey

The IMF is using technology to boost understanding of economic policy issues

You may be surprised to learn that the IMF is in the business of delivering massive open online courses, also known as MOOCs. In fact, you may not even be aware that it is in the business of teaching at all.

Our lending operations and monitoring of member countries’ economies certainly grab more headlines. But over a quarter of the IMF’s work involves capacity development—that is, helping member countries build strong economic institutions and boost skills to implement sound macroeconomic and financial policies. The IMF provides quite a lot training and technical assistance behind the scenes to help countries better withstand shocks and avert crises—precisely so they won’t be in the news.

My department, the IMF Institute for Capacity Development, runs a training program for country officials on applied macroeconomics, financial issues, and related statistical and legal frameworks. Our courses use the same rigorous analytical approach as macroeconomics and finance courses taught at universities, but they differ in that they are short and policy oriented, drawing lessons from the experiences of our 189 member countries. They try to bridge the gap between economic theory and practical policy implementation using case studies and workshops based on actual country data.

Expanded potentialI first heard about MOOCs through a TED talk by Daphne Koller, founder of Coursera, a pioneer of the concept of free online courses for the public. I was fascinated by the possibilities MOOCs presented. Our traditional classroom training—on topics such as economic forecasting and debt sustainability analysis—was reaching 30 government officials at a time. Although we were delivering courses at several training centers across the globe and training 7,000–8,000 officials a year, it wasn’t enough to meet the demand from our member countries. With online learning, not only would we be able to reach more people, we could also deliver training at a much lower cost, unconstrained by the need for physical facilities and complex logistical arrangements.

So we joined forces in 2013 with edX, a consortium that provides MOOCs started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and produced our first MOOC. It was on Financial Programming and Policies, our flagship course for...

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