Sunday, 2 June 2013

Who's Who in the World of MOOCs

Now we have the general idea of what these MOOC things are, let's take a quick look at some of the main players.

Coursera is probably the biggest of the MOOC providers with close to four hundred courses on offer and millions of registered students. Courses are all free and share a common user interface. The content is supplied by a wide range of universities, mainly US-based but increasingly worldwide. Subscribing institutions include the University of Pennsylvania, John Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of London and Princeton University among many others.

Courses are based around weekly video lectures and typically include both machine-graded and peer-evaluated  assessment elements. Most courses issue 'statements of accomplishment' to those who meet the requirements and a few go further to mark the highest achievers 'with Distinction'. A small minority of course providers do not permit such certificates to be issued, most notably including Princeton and Yale.

edX is non-profit set up by MIT and Harvard to compete head on with the likes of Coursera and Udacity (both for-profit spin-offs from Stanford). It currently has around 60 courses running or upcoming. It is expected to have many more coming up soon as some 29 universities from around the world have joined. Among those joining the founding institutions are Berkeley, Rice, University of Toronto, Cornell and Kyoto University.

Courses follow a similar pattern being based around weekly lectures and assignments. Peer assessment seems much less common on edX than is the case with Coursera. Certificates of Achievement are issued by all courses and marked with both the names of both edX and the sponsoring university. Courses typically run from 5 to 12 weeks in length and require 5-15 hours study time although this obviously depends on the individual.

Udacity is the third of the big high profile providers and arose from the same pilot-work at Stanford that spawned Coursera. Like Coursera, it is a for-profit business although they have not yet settled on a monetisation plan. Most of Udacity's courses were produced internally but they have recently partnered with San Jose State University to offer a small number of courses with the option of earning college credit, to which we will return in a moment.

Courses are generally self-paced,that is,the student can proceed as fast or as slow as suits their needs and abilities.  The exceptions to this are the San Jose 'for credit' option courses where students must work to the schedule for lectures and assessments. Udacity courses are notable for having extremely short lectures slices, typically one or two minutes, interspersed with single question quizzes. How you get on with this presentation style will depend on the individual. Certificates of Achievement are provided for all courses. Courses are free to students but the SJSU college credit option cost $150 for administration costs etc. 

Other options exist, there are new providers such as Open2Study in Australia and an offering sponsored by the Open University in Britain, Futurelearn, which is due to launch later this year. I'll return to these in later posts. is the last provider that I want to mention today and it is last because it is rather different. is a charitable trust sponsored by Michael J. Saylor with the aim of providing free educational access for all. Operating from 2008 in the Open Education Resources field it has latterly moved into online education and now has an unusual and impressive offering. Two things make Saylor different, the use of existing open access material and the attempt to emulate a full US-style four year degree programme.

Saylor's aim is to offer, free of charge, programmes that match the most popular US college courses and majors. They currently offer just under three hundred courses, the vast majority at undergraduate level. Students may enroll in an 'Area of Study ' and be guided through a full programme including major core and electives courses and a General Education requirement.

I'm a big fan of Saylor and will be returning to talk more about them next time.

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