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Finally, alternatives to prominent MOOCs

Tony Hirst shared a new initiative via OU UK: UK universities embrace the free, open, online future of higher education powered by The Open University. From a Times HE release:

Futurelearn will carry courses from 12 UK institutions (see list), which will be available to students across the world free of charge.
It will follow in the footsteps of US providers including Coursera, edX and Udacity, which offer around 230 Moocs from around 40 mostly US-based institutions to more than 3 million students.
The new platform will operate as an independent company, majority owned by The Open University, although details of other investors have yet to be confirmed.

Tony Hirst has compiled a list of articles (or churnalism as it appears to be). The logo of FutureLearn appears to be the byproduct of 2 minutes of creativity “let’s type the name and then change the font colour on half”. At least they’re experimenting rather than joining existing initiatives.

In July this year, I complained about the lack of vision by Canadian universities with regard to open online courses:

Canadian universities are squandering an opportunity to reply meaningfully to Coursera and EDx. I’m aware of at least two major Canadian universities that are negotiating to join Coursera. Why give not develop your own? Why not create an active experiment in a Canadian context that allows you to build your understanding of emerging learning models?
By joining an existing project, you largely give away the knowledge building potential for Canadian universities in their own experimentation. Instead of a diversity of projects, where Coursera/EDx benefit from what our universities do (and vice versa), we are doing what got us into this position of innovation laggards in the first place: neglecting the development of vision by taking an easier more politically palatable route.

Universities simply don’t have time to respond to changes with multi-year consultations. Vision and action are required to stay relevant. I’m encouraged that UK has seen the need to move forward with an initiative that provides a UK spin on open courses.

I’m more dismayed now, however, than I was in July and the anemic vision and response by Canadian universities. Higher education is facing a changed landscape. Even if MOOCs disappear from the landscape in the next few years, the change drivers that gave birth to them will continue to exert pressure and render slow plodding systems obsolete (or, perhaps more accurately, less relevant). If MOOCs are eventually revealed to be a fad, the universities that experiment with them today will have acquired experience and insight into the role of technology in teaching and learning that their conservative peers won’t have. It’s not only about being right, it’s about experimenting and playing in the front line of knowledge. Researchers do this in their labs regularly. Unfortunately, the logic of being leading edge experimenters doesn’t seem to translate into the university system/model itself.

Canada, your move.


  1. Ben Harwood wrote:

    Perhaps Canadian universities should partner with FutureLearn rather than starting from scratch, or worse, falling in step with the Coursera and edX.

    Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Permalink
  2. Daniel Savard wrote:

    You must understand Canadian universities aren’t national institutions like it could be elsewhere in the world. The education, including higher education, is a provincial responsability. The budgets are allocated at the provincial level as well as the policies driving the universities.

    So, the decision to join an existing MOOC or creating its own is a decision to be taken at the provincial level.

    I doubt any province would be willing to delegate some of its constitutional recognized competencies to a national organization. That’s somewhat silly, however this is how Canada is working for now.

    Friday, December 14, 2012 at 1:12 am | Permalink
  3. Lucas Gruez wrote:

    Thanls a lot to share your tinkings about the evolution of MOOCs.
    I started curation to follow and share this very interesting phenomena:
    Lucas Gruez

    Friday, December 14, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  4. Jenni Hayman wrote:

    It is true that Canadian Universities are managed at the provincial level, but that does not prevent Canada as a nation from establishing basic education rights, policies and funding models for adult education. Open education, truly open, low cost, high quality and available to any adult who wishes to improve his or her livelihood should be a right in Canada. A right that is upheld by policy and quality implementation practices. We now have more mechanisms than ever to make this happen. While we have done a lot to establish education rights for children, we often abandon them at the age of 18 or so by severely limiting their options for further education. The cost of higher education in Canada is prohibitive for many. Our national government needs to get on board with the idea that a well-educated nation enables innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, improved mental and physical health, and most importantly, turns disadvantaged populations facing barriers to education into thriving taxpayers. Win-win-win and, win.

    Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink
  5. Kris Olds wrote:

    There increasing signs Canada is acting as a country on international student flows, bilateral relations with other higher ed systems, provision of data to the OECD, CRCs, etc. I personally support this call for more strategic thinking (at a minimum) at a national scale.

    Monday, December 17, 2012 at 10:52 am | Permalink