Friday, 22 February 2013

MOOCs count towards full degree

Increasing impact of MOOCs: Massive Online Open Courses
In a recent post we considered the impact of an online phenomenon that’s rapidly gaining support throughout the USA and parts of Europe. We reflected on whether UK universities are about to follow suit and embark on the trend that’s being pitched as a global online revolution.

Two months later and one of the emerging powerhouses among American universities has announced that it will be joining forces with a further 29 institutes throughout the USA, Europe and Asia.

Coursera, an educational technology company formed by academics at the prestigious Stanford University, will now offer a range of online courses from 62 institutes including Humanities, Biology, Social Sciences, Mathematics, and many others.

According to Coursera’s co-founder Andrew Ng, the online course provider now serves over 2.8 million students, which he believes has helped universities throughout the world ‘raise their impact both on and off campus’.

Often referred to as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), Coursera has established itself as the pacesetter in this expanding market, working in partnership with universities and learning institutes to offer free online courses.

Going global

The announcement that a further 62 institutes will be joining as partners means that MOOCs will now be active in countries outside of the USA, including Hong Kong, France, Holland, Italy, Japan, Singapore and Switzerland, to name a few.

Coursera are also welcoming a stream of US universities such as North Western, Rutgers and Penn State.

In our last blog update that looked at whether UK universities are likely to establish MOOCs, we identified that UK universities had only begun to dip their toes. As although many academics believed the online course alternatives challenge learners to similar levels as those delivered on-campus, the lack of accreditation and formal recognition was an issue that was suggested to jeopardise learners’ employment prospects.

However, Coursera has now confirmed that many of their online courses will now carry credits towards a full degree.

Initially based on five courses including Genetics and Algebra, Sarah Elchhorn, from the University of California has signified this as an ‘education milestone’ for the field of online learning.

However, the prospect of MOOCs gaining accreditation has sparked concern in the USA, sharing the trepidation that UK universities have demonstrated up to now, in that the online course structure will dilute the importance of universities as learning institutions. And for many students who, in the UK face up to £27,000 tuition fees, and some US students more than $55,000 (£33,000) – this could potentially jeopardise the future of higher education institutes throughout the world.

While the prospect for MOOCs to become accredited remains under recommendation and review in the USA, questions are now being asked about Coursera’s business model. Up until March 2012, Coursera had been funded by a venture capitalist grant of $16 million and was yet to publish recorded profits. But now that the initiative moves out of its pioneering phase, academics expect to see Coursera move away from previously free or low-cost courses to become a financially viable and revenue-generating venture.

FutureLearn: Free UK open online courses So how will this affect the UK?


In the UK, universities have been resilient to the developments seen in the USA with the Open University being one of the few to announce an online platform, with its FutureLearn initiative.

In an interview, covered in our last blog article with the Guardian, Prof Martin Bean described the online movement as the ‘Napster movement for higher education’. And while many UK universities remain unconvinced, others have begun to share in this vision, with five UK universities now joining the FutureLearn partnership.

Queen’s Belfast, Bath, Leicester, Nottingham, and Reading universities are the most recent to join with the British Library also confirming their support for developing online course material.

Within the UK, 18 universities now intend to offer FutureLearn courses and, as the Prime Minister visits India to encourage and promote UK universities, Prof Martin Bean has been invited as the Head of the FutureLearn project.

In response to the recent developments, Prof Bean has commented, ‘We're in the middle of an exciting time for higher education in which anything is possible.’

Coursera and FutureLearn are the forerunners in what is anticipated to be a digital revolution for education and a massive step in broadening access to education throughout the world, a vision that all of us here at LearnersCloud share.

MOOCs are gaining proponents throughout the world and, as the world’s IT infrastructure advances, it’s not difficult to see why. Here at LearnersCloud we’re already helping thousands of schools and students throughout the world improve teaching and learning at GCSE and iGCSE, by offering an accessible and affordable e-learning platform.

The question is whether UK Universities will be able to adjust quickly enough before the world catches up.

We’re always keen to get the views of our readers so please do take the time to add your comments and continue the discussion.