FutureLearn, a multi-institution provider owned by the Open University, announced the details of 20 pilot courses including the schedules for eight which are set to begin between October and December this year.
Most courses will last six to ten weeks, although “mini-Moocs” lasting just two weeks will also be on offer, FutureLearn chief executive Simon Nelson told Times Higher Education.
Speaking at the launch, he said that 20,000 students from 158 different countries had registered for courses in the 24 hours since those who had already expressed an interest were able to officially register.
Courses include “Fairness And Nature: When Worlds Collide” from the University of Leeds, “The Secret Power of Brands” from the University Of East Anglia and a course on “England in the Time of King Richard III” by University of Leicester.
The first eight courses will also cover building mobile games, human psychology, dental photography, ecosystems and web science.
Mr Nelson said each would provide “real learning opportunities” with universities keen to ensure their first Moocs represented “the best of what that university could offer”.
Available until early next year in “open beta” format, the Moocs will be optimised for mobile devices and encourage “social learning”.
FutureLearn was set up in December 2012 and includes 23 university partners as well as the British Library, British Museum and British Council.
Speaking at the launch, vice-chancellor of the OU, Martin Bean said: “For FutureLearn Moocs to succeed in the face of much larger competition, we needed the whole higher education sector to come together, and that’s exactly what has happened.”
Mr Nelson said FutureLearn was looking forward to “unleashing” some of the OU’s thinking and their expertise in a way that took advantage of developments in technology as well as changes in student expectations.
Universities and science minister David Willetts said that although there were currently no formal credentials available through the platform, he was “sure” there would be in the future.
“The moment will come when someone is applying for a job…and [is] able to say I’ve participated in the following online programme and here is a certificate of completion, and that will be taken seriously by the employer,” he said.
Mr Willetts stressed the potential role for Moocs in increasing access to higher education and fulfilling the demand that might not be met by “bricks and mortar” conventional education.
He also highlighted the roles they will play as a recruitment tool for universities. “I personally think online learning is more of a challenge to agents recruiting to universities around the world than to universities themselves,” he said.
The UEA’s Mooc will be the first to go live following the launch.
Helena Gillespie, associate dean for learning, teaching and quality in the university’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said UEA saw open online courses as “a key part of the 21st Century higher education experience”.
Neil Morris, director of digital learning at Leeds, said interest from staff at his institution had been “huge” with academics coming up with “more ideas than we can possibly deliver”.
“There are concerns…around issues of assessment and replacement of face-to-face learning. But a large proportion of those answering [a staff survey] could see that a mixture of Moocs with face-to-face delivery would be a good educational experience,” he said.
Further courses are currently being created with the next wave expected to be unveiled over the coming months. The number of students able to take part in the first phase will be limited.
Learner feedback will be used to inform the on-going development of the website, said Mr Nelson, with the quality of the learner experience being the main criteria of success against which it will be judged.
Although not completing a Mooc will not necessarily be seen as a failure, completion rates would also be measured, he added. “We’re going to be analysing the hell out of that as a metric alongside dozens of others,” he said.
Although FutureLearn will announce a few additional partners in coming months, Mr Nelson said that the platform was deliberately starting small and with “brands that are internationally recognised”.
“We’re very happy with the quality of the institutions we’ve got and also the size of FutureLearn for the time being, it feels like the right place to start,” he said.