Interview with Carlos Souza, co-founder of Brazil’s largest MOOC platform Veduca


After the US and India, Brazil today occupies the third place when it comes to the number of students participating in online education. Yet, the offer of courses is still limited. While globally, the movement started taking off globally in 2012 with several pioneering providers opening the doors for a truly massive reach, in Brazil, it was the startup Veduca that brought top quality education to the country’s remotest areas. Written by Gioia Deucher, CEO swissnex Brazil for Global Statement 2014 Blog.

carlos souza vedouca
A recent conversation with Veduca’s inspirational Co-founder Carlos Souza brings to light the challenges, and mostly the great transformative power of Massive Online Open Courses, and highlights what’s needed for a MOOC to be successful in the world’s seventh largest economy.

Brazil is…
…the 5th largest and
…the 6th most populous country in the world
…the 7th country in internet usage, yet
…the 36th country in educational attainment
( Pearson Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment)

Q : How did the MOOC movement start in Brazil?

A: In 2011, there were merely some scattered professors doing unstructured experiments with online education. The first serious MOOC was created in June 2012 when Veduca launched two courses together with state-owned Universidade de São Paulo (USP).

In Brazil, the best professors tend to teach in public universities, as public servants. This means that, by law, they may not pursue projects outside of teaching, research or publishing. This first MOOC hence had to be launched as part of an “event” associated with USP. The resonance it got, as well as the institutional support from Brazil’s best-ranked university USP set an example and professors “lost their fear” of venturing into digital education.

Q : What inspired you to found Brazil’s first true MOOC?

A: In 2002, MIT had declared that it would put all its courses online as part of the “Open Courses” movement. It hadn’t reached Brazil yet because all content was in English – and only 2% of Brazilians speak fluent English! Moreover, none of the large Brazilian universities had dared to get its feet wet and join the movement.

In late 2012, I hence launched Veduca for two reasons:

  1. The crucial elements were in place: the technology was ready and the content was there. All that was needed was a platform, and for the content to be translated, curated, enriched and organized.
  2. My personal motivation was the realization that Brazil, as the seventh largest economy in the world, remains at the bottom of educational rankings. There is a lack of good education, which is the root cause for many problems the country is facing, including the dearth of talent and qualified professionals.

Veduca’s target audience upon launch
1. college students: ca. 7 million, or 17% of 17-24 year olds in Brazil
(vs. 25% in rest of Latin America)
2. college graduates looking for extension courses: ca. 18 million, or less than 10%
of the Brazilian population (vs. 40% in the US)
3. college professors, who are multipliers: ca. 250’000 in Brazil
4. pre-college teenagers: 14-18 year olds

Q : What’s main problem that MOOCs can solve in Brazilian education? How?

A: In a country with a stark rural-urban divide, and where good primary education requires parents to pay dearly for private school, many brilliant students with limited financial means are deprived from the opportunities they deserve. They simply are not equipped with the level of training required to pass the “vestibular”-exam for high-quality public universities.

In Brazil, MOOCs can hence help to democratize access to top quality education such that anyone, anywhere can go online and watch and listen to some of the best professors in the world. They also allow students who didn’t have the privilege to attend good private schools to catch up as they prepare for their “vestibular”-exam to get into a good public university.

Furthermore, MOOCs plateforms like Veduca contribute improve the continuing education and extension courses of college graduates who seek to refresh or upgrade their knowledge. This includes college professors who deepen or broaden their knowledge and, through their classrooms, act as multipliers. Along with individuals come companies that look to deploy training to their employees, and, finally, pre-college teenagers who use MOOCs to get inspired and think about their academic and professional future.

Something that is less talked about, is that MOOCs can also help improve the quality of conventional teaching: hybrid and flipped classroom models have been proven to improve traditional models because now the professors the classroom is now dedicated to discussing cases, sharing points of view, applying and deepening theory.

Getting the certification is very tough, at a 50% fail rate.

Q : How are Brazilian MOOCs like Veduca different from other models such as Coursera or EdX, and why?

A: Veduca started by focusing on more basic courses (basic physics, mathematics, statistics) – much more so than what US MOOCs, which mostly offer advanced courses. We didn’t want to first put the cherry on top of the cake, but to first bake the cake: we first need improve on the basics before going to the more advanced stuff. This is where traditional Brazilian education is most lacking.

While the content we offer is free, our business model is based, first and foremost, on certification. It is different from US models in that the accreditation had to be validated by the Ministry of Education. This is something of prime importance in the Brazilian culture. Veduca hence launched the first online MBA in Finance and Innovation, attended by 70’000 students, with 1’200 students pursuing certification, at a price tag of USD 3’000. Getting the certification is very tough, at a 50% fail rate. But given that MOOCs are a unique opportunity for Brazil to improve the quality of education, it has do be done right. High standards and high expectations are crucial!

As such, Veduca was the very first MOOCs plateform worldwide to obtain real accreditation for its courses. Only Udacity in the US follows a similar model, and only since last year.

Q : What are the elements required to be in place for MOOCs to take off in Brazil?

A: First and foremost, the top-rated universities have to adopt the MOOC movement and go online. If Veduca had opted to settle with less qualified professors in the beginning, it would not have worked.

Second, the platform has to be engaging. The student has to develop the desire to go back. The completion rate on Veduca, at around 10%, is the same as that of US platforms. We realized that, instead of copying what other successful MOOCs do, we have to build something that works specifically for our Brazilian audience. We found out that the attention span of our users is about 10-15 minutes. So, we broke down our lectures into 10-minute modules, each followed by a series of short quizzes to maintain the attention of the student. We don’t have any gaming component built in yet but plan to do so as of 2015.

The key barrier faced by the movement today is not legal or regulatory, but rather the adoption rate. This is true not only for students, but also for professors who are not willing to go digital. Certain institutions pride themselves on their exclusivity, or their “closed-ness”. They do not wish to be open and don’t pursue a mission of greater social value. Moreover, some professors simply shy away from any additional work created for them.
Interestingly, the professors who committed to Veduca are either quite young, or close to retirement For the first, the motivation to go online is a drive to be innovative and tech-savvy. For the latter, it is a desire to leave a legacy.

Additional Links:

More on Veduca:

More on MOOCs in Brazil:

Other MOOCs in Brazil:

Picture: Salford University under CC license