Don’t mention the ‘M’ word: Moocs get a rebrand

FutureLearn phases out acronym for massive open online courses as internet learning evolves

October 5, 2018
Online learning
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It became clear long ago that they were not going to disrupt higher education in quite the way that some predicted. And now one of the biggest providers of massive open online courses – Moocs – is quietly dropping the moniker, too.

Although Moocs aren’t going anywhere, “we just don’t use the ‘M’ word so much any more”, said Simon Nelson, chief executive of FutureLearn, the online learning platform owned by the UK’s Open University.

When Moocs were first launched, some claimed that they would sweep away traditional bricks-and-mortar universities in favour of free online learning, open to all. That bubble quickly burst.

However, Mr Nelson said that the future “was never about Moocs but about the arrival of digitisation” in higher education. “There would have been a much more rational debate had we focused on the impact that digitisation was having – and will have,” Mr Nelson told the EnlightED conference in Madrid, organised by IE University and Telefonica as part of the technology-focused South Summit.

When FutureLearn was launched there is “no doubt the world we entered was full of hype, and that those players already in the market had unquestionably promoted that hype”, he said.

“That idea that Moocs would be this panacea for the educational gaps in the world and universities would be swept aside and only a few would survive was of course nonsense, but so was also the reaction that Moocs would disappear,” added Mr Nelson, explaining that the answer was always somewhere in the middle.

FutureLearn’s shift away from the ‘M’ word may also be a reflection that it, and other online platforms, are increasingly moving away from the free model traditionally associated with Moocs and towards providing paid-for accredited programmes and full degrees from partner universities.

Earlier this week, FutureLearn announced that it was partnering with the University of Newcastle in Australia to offer an online arts undergraduate degree programme, with online students learning at the same time as campus-based students. It follows on from the launch of postgraduate courses in partnership with Deakin and Murdoch universities in Australia, and Coventry University – plus the OU – in the UK.

Coursera, FutureLearn’s US-based rival, announced its first UK bachelor’s programme and a range of master’s degrees from US institutions earlier this year.

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