Open University launches British Mooc platform to rival US providers

A UK-based platform for massive open online courses (Moocs) to rival established providers in the US has been launched by The Open University.

December 14, 2012

Futurelearn will carry courses from 12 UK institutions (see list), which will be available to students across the world free of charge.

It will follow in the footsteps of US providers including Coursera, edX and Udacity, which offer around 230 Moocs from around 40 mostly US-based institutions to more than 3 million students.

The new platform will operate as an independent company, majority owned by The Open University, although details of other investors have yet to be confirmed.

Simon Nelson, a key player in the development of BBC's online offerings, including the iPlayer, has been recruited to head up the new company.

"There has been rapid and widespread growth in open online courses but until now UK universities have only had the option of working with US-based platforms," Mr Nelson said.

"Futurelearn will aim to bring together the leading UK universities to create a combined and coherent offer for students in the UK and internationally."

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, said Moocs had the potential to bring about "long-lasting change", and described the Futurelearn platform as "the next chapter in the story of British higher education".

Among the first institutions to sign up to Futurelearn is the University of Warwick, which already delivers a number of courses online including its distance learning MBA.

Nigel Thrift, vice-chancellor of Warwick, said: "[Futurelearn] 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 to some of the most exciting teaching and learning opportunities offered by many of the UK's leading universities."

Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, which will also offer courses on Futurelearn, added: "In a world where people increasingly access content in a multiplicity of ways, it is only right that higher education can be accessed by alternative and complementary methods."

Although not named as one of the institutions set to deliver courses on the new platform, University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz said the initiative was "exciting".

"Online education is becoming an important approach which may open substantial opportunities to those without access to conventional universities," he said.

The project has also been welcomed by government.

David Willetts, universities and science minister, said it was important for the UK to be at the forefront of developments in education technology.

"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.

"Futurelearn has the potential to put the UK at the heart of the technology-for-learning agenda by revolutionising conventional models of formal education.

"New online delivery tools will also create incredible opportunities for UK entrepreneurs to reach world markets by harnessing technology and innovation in the field of education."

A spokeswoman for The Open University said details about which courses will be available on Futurelearn will be confirmed in the new year.

She also said that additional universities had expressed a "strong interest" in the project, and new partners would be announced in due course.

chris.parr@tsleducation.com

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