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Open University Enters Battle Of The MOOCs, Launches “FutureLearn”

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By WiredAcademic Staff

Not to be outdone by US consortiums, the United Kingdom announced its own massive open online course (MOOC) provider on Friday called “FutureLearn”, kicking up the battle of the MOOCs to a trans-Atlantic affair.

The heavy hitting and innovative Open University is majority owner of FutureLearn Ltd. But it says the organization will run independently, offering a wide range of free, open, online courses from a roster of UK universities that includes: The universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster,  Leeds,  Southampton,  St Andrews and Warwick.

The goals of FutureLearn are (according to their press release):

  • Bring together a range of free, open, online courses from leading UK universities, that will be clear, simple to use and accessible;
  • Draw on the OU’s expertise in delivering distance learning and pioneering open education resources to underpin a unified, coherent offer from all of its partners;
  • Increase accessibility to higher education for students across the UK and in the rest of the world.

“The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology,” said David Willetts, the minister for universities and science in the UK. “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) present an opportunity for us to widen access to, and meet the global demand for, higher education. This is growing rapidly in emerging economies like Brazil, India and China.”

Willetts said Futurelearn has potential to keep the Uk at the heart of the education revolution. He’s a believer that new online delivery tools will create opportunities for entrepreneurs to reach world markets.

The Open University Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean said the OU has 250,000 registered students each year and millions more using its free, informal online offerings via its OpenLearn initiative. It has 400k unique visitors per month and a storehouse of 11,000 hour sof learning materials. OU is also on iTune and has more than 1 million subscriptions to its 52 courses there since Jan. 2012. “Futurelearn will take this proud heritage and work with some of Britain’s best-known universities to write the next chapter in the story of British higher education.”

OU has lined up Simon Nelson, formerly with BBC Online, to head the company. “Until now UK universities have only had the option of working with US-based platforms. Futurelearn will aim to bring together the leading UK universities to create a combined and coherent offer for students in the UK and internationally,” he said.

FutureLearn staff say it will announce future details of its structure and courses early in the New Year.

Professor Nigel Thrift, a vice chancellor at the University of Warwick said his school already delivers online learning through its Teaching Shakespeare program, it’s distance learning MBA and its International Gateway for Gifted Youth. “We are delighted to bring that experience, and add some of our innovative teaching, to this initiative,” he said. “This will clearly be an exciting way for a global audience to experience the high quality teaching of a selection of the UK’s top ranked universities. Students will gain access of some of the most exciting teaching and learning opportunities offered by many of the UK’s leading universities.”

Here’s what some other UK media said of the news:

Rebecca Ratcliffe writes in The Guardian:

The UK higher education industry, which is worth £14 billion, stands in the top five export earners for Britain.

Moocs have grown rapidly in the US over the past year, with two providers leading the field. Coursera offers courses from 33 universities, including Princeton, Brown, Columbia and Duke and has reached more than 1.7 million users.

EdX, a nonprofit start-up from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has 370,000 students enrolled on online courses this autumn.

Natasha Lomas writes in TechCrunch

The dynamic online learning space is about to get a little more crowded, thanks to the arrival of another group of established learning institutions who are joining forces — or rather pooling resources — to get into the brave new world of MOOCs. What are MOOCs? The short answer is ‘massive open online courses’ — typically free, conducted online and open to anyone who wants to participate (for a more detailed discussion of MOOCs, read this and watch this). There are now enough of these MOOCs out there they even have their own listings/review startup service (called CourseTalk)…

Several U.S. universities have already jumped aboard the MOOC mobile, including the likes of Harvard and MIT, and while FutureLearn’s partner universities are not the first UK universities to chase a slice of MOOC pie either — Edinburgh University, for example, joined the Courseraconsortium in July — they appear to be the first such large group to set up a dedicated MOOC business located in the UK.

Sean Coughlan at the BBC writes

This comes a day after the UK’s universities admissions service reported a 54,000 drop in students starting courses this autumn, in the first year of higher tuition fees in England. From next year, the universities involved in the UK project will begin to offer courses on the FutureLearn online platform.

These universities will be responsible for the content, quality, accreditation and cost of courses offered online. There will also be social networking-style communities for students. Materials will be designed for portable devices, such as iPads or mobile phones.


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