I had mentioned that MOOC news would be coming quickly during the first few months of this academic year. And while the kickoff of the new UK MOOC provider FutureLearn has been anticipated for quite some time, the announcement of their first set of courses means the US-centric nature of MOOCs is likely to give way to global over the next year or two.
Now a number of international colleges and universities are already trying their hand at MOOCs by partnering with existing US-based providers. For example, my junior year lineup included classes from the University of London and LMU in Munich, and senior year starts with a class from University of Copenhagen – all delivered via Coursera (while some of the latest edX courses were developed by partner universities in China).
And if you read all six parts of this series, you’ll see that MOOCs are taking root in different parts of the world with varying levels of commitment, with some countries launching their own platforms and courses while others are building MOOC resources for existing educational programs.
But of all these initiatives, FutureLearn may have the most potential given that it’s a wholly owned by one of the worlds’ oldest and most successful practitioners of distance education: the Open University.
Open University (or OU) was founded in 1969 and today offers hundreds of courses organized into dozens of degree programs to close to a quarter million students. And if you look at these facts and figures regarding who’s who among those hundreds of thousands of students, you’ll see demographics that strongly resemble the breakdown of enrollments in Udacity, Coursera or edX courses.
The site you’re reading has visitors who went through the Open University system who can probably provide more detail, but (as Sir John Daniel – former President of OU – described at MIT’s recent LINC conference) Open University courses are way ahead of their MOOC counterparts in terms of scope, rigor and integration of resources such as tutoring and demanding assignments and assessments. And the standards- and qualification-crazed nature of the British educational system provides an exam-based pathway for students to obtain that Holy Grail of independent education: a recognized degree.
Now Open University, while open to all, is not free. So FutureLearn is a break from their current business model and it remains to be seen how the experience and resources of the parent organization will inform or migrate to MOOC classes delivered via the FutureLearn platform.
Their initial launch includes two dozen courses covering the usual mix of disciplines including computer programming, science, a bit of history and [must fight urge to make lame and obvious British teeth joke] two courses on dentistry. Unfortunately, nearly all these new courses begin in 2014, so I won’t get the chance to include one in my Degree of Freedom lineup. But given their partnerships with major British universities and Open University pedigree, I expect their course list to expand rapidly over the coming year.
Giving the continuing domination of English as the lingua franca of education, FutureLearn probably stands the best chance of breaking the market dominance of US-based MOOCs outside the US. And given the old country’s victory in certain culture wars (from the dominance of British actors in Hollywood to Harry Potter’s footprint on fiction), the UK’s educational talent pool may provide US-based “rock star” professors a healthy dose of competition as FutureLearn continues to round out its offerings.