Twenty one of Britain’s top universities, as well as Trinity College Dublin and Monash University in Australia, are embarking on a project that will enable people to take up an online short-course for free, starting from this September.

The project, run by FutureLearn, a subsidiary of the Open University, aims to extend access to higher education to anyone who wants to learn around the globe. Its university partners include Nottingham, King’s College London, Leicester, Southampton and Reading.

Known as ‘MOOCs’ (‘Massive Open Online Courses’), these courses can be accessed online anywhere in the world, and are taken over a series of weeks. Students benefit more from these online distance learning courses than previous ones by having access to online forums in which they can discuss their studies. Materials used to aid learning will also be provided by the British Council, British Library and British Museum to enhance such studies.

The MOOCs offered by the universities are in a variety of subjects, ranging from science and technology to history and politics. Nottingham has launched a course called ‘Sustainability, Society and You’, while Leicester offer ‘England in the time of King Richard III’, and Southampton runs a course on web science.

The project has taken inspiration from online platforms offering MOOCs launched in the past few years by top US universities, including MIT and Harvard’s edX and Stanford’s Coursera, the latter of which signed up more than 4 million students in the first 18 months of it starting.

The University of Nottingham has explained it’s motive to join the initiative through the university’s vice-chancellor David Greenaway, who claims it is about expanding an already functioning objective to offer a good English education globally: “The University of Nottingham already has a unique global presence, with the…Ningbo, China and…Malaysia Campus offering more than 10,000 students in Asia a Nottingham, campus-based learning experience in English. The FutureLearn philosophy aligns extremely well with our internationalisation strategy of ‘Knowledge without Borders’.”

Students of UK MOOCs are rewarded with a certificate, but the courses do not result in university accreditation as of yet. In the future this could change, as it has done with some US MOOCs. FutureLearn’s MOOCs hope to succeed in making education accessible for all.

Emily Metcalf

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1 Comment

  1. Philip Whitehead
    September 26, 2013 at 14:10 — Reply

    I’m glad the University want to expand the reach of eduction, and “making education accessible for all” is a laudable aim. However, education is as much about intellectual (and, dare I say it, moral) formation as it is about knowledge transfer. I don’t think MOOCs capture that; certainly in my subject area (Theology/Religious Studies) education is not just about the acquisition of knowledge, but also about an existential encounter with the questions raised by the study of theology. This is something that happens over time, in conversation and dialogue with others, and as part of life (not just knowledge/skill acquisition for the workplace). Face-to-face teaching is best for this; it is not easily replicable by an online course.

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