MOOCs and Open Education Timeline (updated!)


This revised version of the evolution of MOOCs was developed for our paper ‘Partnership Model for Entrepreneurial Innovation in Open Online’ now published in eLearning Papers.

Three years after the initial MOOC hype, in line with our previous analysis we looked at some possible trends and influence of MOOCs the HE system in the contexts of face-to-face teaching, open education, online distance learning, and possible business initiatives in education and training. We expanded the diagram from 2012 -2015 and explored some key ideas and trends around the following aspects:

  1. Open license: Most MOOC content is not openly licensed so it cannot be reused in different contexts. There are, however, a few examples of institutions using Creative Commons licences for their courses – meaning they can be taken and re-used elsewhere. In addition, there is a trend for MOOC to be made available ‘on demand’ after the course has finished, where they in effect become another source of online content that is openly available. Those OERs and online content can be used to develop blended learning courses or support a flipped classroom approach in face-to-face teaching.
  2. Online learning pedagogy: New pedagogical experiments in online distance learning can be identified in addition to the c/xMOOC with variants including SPOCs (Small Private Open Courses), DOCCs (Distributed Open Collaborative Course) and SOOCs (Social Online Open Course or Small Open Online Course). It is likely that they will evolve to more closely resemble regular online courses with flexible learning pathways. These will provide a range of paid-for services, including learning support on demand, qualitative feedback on assignments, and certification and credits (Yuan and Powell 2014).
  3. New educational provisions: The disruptive effect of MOOCs will be felt most significantly in the development of new forms of provision that go beyond the traditional HE market. For example, the commercial MOOC providers, such as Udacity and Coursera, have moved on to professional and corporate training, broadening their offerings to appeal to employers (Chafkin, 2013). In an HE context, platforms are creating space for exam-based credit and competency-based programs which will enable commercial online learning providers to produce a variety of convenient, customizable, and targeted programs for the emergent needs of the job market backed by awards from recognised institutions.
  4. Add-on Services: The development of online courses is an evolving model with the market re-working itself to offer a broader range of solutions to deliver services at a range of price levels to a range of student types. There is great potential for add-on content services and the creation of new revenue models through building partnerships with institutions and other educational service providers. As these trends continue to unfold, we can expect to see even more entrepreneurial innovation and change in the online learning landscape.

Reflection on the “Open Education – a New World Order” session

At the Cetis conference 2014, Stephen and I facilitated a session on “Open Education and MOOCs”. We began with two very interesting presentations from Audrey Watters,  a journalist and author of Hack Education, and Amy Woodgate from The University of Edinburgh. They offered two different perspectives: MOOCs as teaching machines vs MOOCs as teaching experiments.


Audrey shared some insights on how the ideas and principles developed by the founder of Udacity, Sebastian Thrun, and used to build Google’s self-driving car have been applied to MOOCs to make teaching and learning scalable and standardized. Audrey argued that with AI (artificial intelligence) mind-sets, MOOCs have been developed as teaching machines that use students’ data as the new oil that drives learners to automated education!,

A contrasting view developed in Amy’s presentation discussed how Edinburgh MOOCs have been used for experimenting with new online delivery methods and capability building. In this case, MOOCs can be seen as a vehicle for  exploring new online learning pedagogy, acting as a catalyst for institutional change.

In the second half of the session, participants discussed the opportunities, challenges, motivation and capacities required for developing open online learning in institutions. They worked in groups to develop business models for adopting MOOCs in different types of organisations, namely: a Research Focused University; a Teaching Focused University and a New Market Entrant. Business Model Canvas was used as a tool to facilitate their conversations with each group developing a model canvas:

1. The Research Focused University

Highlights: Although finance and revenues are not big concerns for this type of institution, good will, enthusiasm and spare time of academics will not sustain institutional MOOC provision in the long run.


2. The Teaching Focused University

Highlights: Great opportunities for blended learning, flipped classrooms and experimenting with unbundling and rebundling. However, the new courses and models need to generate new revenue streams for institutions.


3. The New Market Entrant

Highlights: new market was identified to meet the unmet needs, such as NEETS. But it is unclear who is going to pay for it.


Overall, the session gave us lots of food for thought. After two years of MOOC hype, it is interesting to see that Udacity has moved towards corporate training and professional development and Coursera has also has shifted their focus away from impact on learners towards working with institutions.

The most significant contribution yet of MOOCs in higher education is that it has raised awareness of open education and raised the profile of open education resources (OERs) in teaching and learning practices in institutions. However, it emerged from discussions and the BMC exercises during the session that without vital financial support and a viable business model, the new wave of optimism around open online learning generated by MOOCs will gradually fade away.

JISC/ Academy OER start up meeting

I attended the JISC /Academy Open Educational Resources Programme start-up Meeting at the Congress Centre in London last Tuesday. The meeting brought together all funded projects from three programme strands (Individual, Subject and Institutional), JISC/Academy programme managers and JISC programme support services to share and discuss various aspects and issues of the OER pilot programme.

To me, the day was very interesting and useful. Firstly, it was to develop a shared understanding of the purpose of the pilot programme and clarify some “myths” about the OERs projects. Following an introduction to the event by David Kernohan, Tish Roberts gave an overview of the programme. In her presentation, Tish emphasised that successful projects need to be sustainable beyond their funded life, and they also need to explore changing process and policies so that the release of materials becomes an important part of academic practice in institutions. Secondly, the meeting provided guidance on programme management, support and dissemination. Heather Williamson talked about budget, staffing, programme meetings and project reporting. She also pointed out that the projects need to share “when things go wrong”. A range of existing JISC services, including JISC Legal, Jorum, CETIS and InfoNet demonstrated a variety of support functions provided for the projects which cover technical, legal, strategic advice, toolkit and support for the deposit and aggregation of materials. Patrick McAndrew from the OU “SCORE” project shared the lessons learned from OpenLearn and how to support OER projects through OLnet and the community of practice. The evaluation and synthesis for the OER programme intends to develop a common framework tool to look at individual, subject and institutional aspects. Helen Beetham explained that this approach is to encourage shared evaluation. Finally, the event gave delegates an opportunity to get to know one another. The strand meetings provided a small and relaxing environment for successful bidders to talk about their projects and discuss some common issues.

Presentations from the day are available here. Nick and Tom also provided very useful summaries about the event on their blog posts.

Free and Open as a Business Model in HE?

Last week, my son told me that he and his friends had decided that each of them must learn a programming language and make videos to teach other people on their website. He said that he would like to learn JavaScript first. I gave him a book on JavaScript which I bought some time ago and let him to have a look at. He followed the instructions and started to write his very first code. He sent the “cool stuff” he had just made to his friend. His friend loved it and asked him how he did this. My son told him which book he used and promised to bring it to the school next day. A few minutes later, this friend sent him a message “Haha…, downloaded the whole book in five minutes.” My son moaned “who would buy it for 30 quid if you can get it for free?” I was amused by how quickly this 11 year old boy got what he wanted from the internet without spending a penny.

According to Chris Anderson in a podcast, “the great Internet: Free for All” (see Lorna’s blog), people under 25 years old believe that everything on the internet is going to be free whereas people beyond that age may not. He argues that free may be the better way of doing business as opposed to charging users for goods and services in the future. The notion of this new business model is to give away 99% of your products to most people for free but charge for 1% of products for profit from a small number of dedicated users. This results in the majority of users benefiting from free products and services and the charged users being happy with what they have paid for.

How would this industrial economic model affect and apply to higher education provision and the HE market? Can a university give away 99% of its courses for free and still make a profit? What new services and functions should universities provide to attract students when all the course materials are freely available online? What different business models are needed to diversify their income sources? Influenced by the success of Open Sources Software Movement, MIT OpenCourseware, OU OpenLearn and many other universities around the world have started to provide free access to courses for students, educators and self-learners. However, sustainability and scalability have become a big challenge for most OER initiatives once huge foundation funding goes away. Can free and open become one of core business models in HE in the same way we have seen in software, music and the game industry? Perhaps, the HEFCE/Academy/JISC Open Educational Resources Programme provides a good starting point for institutions to think about these questions and develop new approaches for higher education provision in the digital age. It is important that institutions will need to identify their own business case and explore new business models to make Open Educational Resources more sustainable/scalable. Lou McGill and her colleague have conducted a study which examined various business cases for sharing learning materials and provided some possible future business models for institutions to engage with open educational resources. This report is available at

Open Educational Resources programme: call for projects

Bidding for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funded  Open Educational Resources (OER) programme is now open. This pilot programme will be managed jointly by JISC and the HEA and projects will run for 12 months. There will be three separate project strands to the programme: Institutional, Subject Area and Individual. The goal of the programme is to make a wide range of learning resources freely available and easily discoverable so that they may be routinely re-used by both educators and learners. For further details about the grant funding call and associated documentation, please visit:

POCKET Workshop

I attended the POCKET (Project on Open Content Knowledge Exposition and Teaching) workshop last Thursday at the University of Derby. This event was particularly timely as HEFCE just announced an initial £5.7 million of funding for pilot projects on Open Educational Content in higher education institutions early last week. The workshop was started by Patrick McAndrew and Tina Wilson from the Open University who gave an overview of Openlearn, the workflow of open content creation and things to consider before starting an Open Educational Content project. Then we worked in groups to look at how to convert an existing course onto OpenLearn and what were the key issues that needed to be addressed.

In the afternoon session, Sarah Darley, from University of Derby, Roy Attwood from University of Bolton and Mike Jeffries-Harris from University of Exeter presented some course units they have put onto Openlearn. What was most interesting to me was Roys experience in transferring existing open content to the OpenLearn platform as an academic. He has spent the entire summer reading the XML books borrowed from the library and OU XML downloaded from OpenLearn. However, he finally found that in order to upload your course to OpenLearn, you dont have to learn XML at all, rather the easiest way is just to download a course unit from Openlearn, delete the original content and then copy and paste your own content in. I hope his experience and tips will really help those who may be thinking about putting their course onto OpenLearn.

We also explored some tools used by OpenLearn, such as FM (Video conferencing), Compendium (Knowledge Maps) and Learning Journal, etc. Tina demonstrated some examples of how Compendium is being used by educators and learners to present ideas and organise large amounts of information and resources on the web. I have just downloaded the Compendium software a few weeks ago and was hoping to create a knowledge map for Open Educational Resources which could display key concepts and issues of OER movement, visual thinking and discussing process and make accessing to various sorts of resources directly via the map.

The POCKET project is also keen to expand the existing partnership, seek partners to join this initiative and provide support and guidance for individuals and institutions to convert their courses to OpenLearn. It is expected that learners and academics at HEIs in the UK would benefit from an enlarged pool of Open educational resources. For more information about the project and workshop, please visit the POCKET web site.

Managing Quality of Course Resources in Repositories

Quality is the primary concern for most people looking for teaching and learning materials from open educational resources and repositories. Phil in his blog has indicated the difficulties in creating high quality materials for individual lectures, in measuring what we mean by the term ˜good and in communicating the results so people know where to look for the resources they need. In the OER briefing paper, we discussed several approaches that have been used by OER initiatives in dealing with quality management issues, such as MITs and OpenLearns institution-based approach, the peer review approach for Open Source Software projects and Open Access journals and Rice Connexions open users review approach.

Recently, a colleague pointed me to the National High Quality Course Resources Repository in China and told me how these resources had been developed and selected from different institutions throughout China and used by other educators and learners within the country. It seemed to me that this is quite a different approach to quality assessment and enhancement that might be worth looking at for developing large scale OER initiatives and national repositories. I then spent some time to explore relevant websites for the programme and the resources in the repository. Here are some of my findings and thoughts that I would like to share with people who might be interested.

In 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Education launched the œNational Excellent Courses for Higher Education programme, which aimed to encourage institutions in developing and sharing high quality course resources and improving the quality of teaching and learning in HE as a whole. Each year, institutions submit their best courses to the National Centre for Excellent Courses in HE. The centre uploads all the courses on the website and invites the public to vote. The highly rated courses (around 80% of all submitted courses) enter to the next selection process “ expert reviews. Around 20% of courses are recommended as national excellent courses through reviews by expert panels drawn from different subjects and the results are published via various communications channels. Those selected include syllabi, lecture notes, videos and courseware and are mounted into the National Excellent Courses Resources Repository for educators and learners to re-use and re-purpose in their own teaching and learning. The individuals, faculties and institutions who developed the courses receive funding for their work so that they can further invest in the courses or develop other courses. From 2003 to 2007, 1,798 courses were developed and awarded the ˜excellent title and it is expected that another 4,000 courses will be made available from 2008 to 2010.

This centralised selection approach gives us an example of a large scale and long term quality assurance mechanism for OER and repositories at a national level. In particular, this approach might help to address the quality issues for creating, assessing and reusing resources in large repositories and OERs.

  1. Quality of the materials: ideally, the courses selected and stored in the national repository should be the best in their subject areas as a result of the comprehensive submission and selection process, from subject groups, faculties, and institutions to provincial and national levels, public rates and expert reviews. Most importantly, all the courses submitted, and not just those that are selected, should be well-designed and prepared as they are showcases for other resources in their own institutions repository as well as advertising their courses.
  2. Measurement and assessment of the quality of course resources: both users views and subject experts views are considered to decide what course resources are good and useful to other people.
  3. Communication results and promoting sharing: As a national annual programme, many people in HE are involved in developing courses resources or participating in the selection processes. Institutions, faculties and individuals pay attention to the new courses submitted, selected and published each year and know where to find the resources when they need them.
  4. Value for money: faculties and institutions need to invest in course resources so the funds only go to those courses which are selected. The funding bodies are more confident about which resources they should fund in terms of the quality of the resources and how they may be reused and shared by others. For institutions, encouraging individual and faculties to create and develop high quality courses not only secures further funding but also improves the quality of resources in their own repository.

Unfortunately, I was not able to access to the course resources in the repository from outside China. However, I finally found that some courses have been translated into English and published on China Open Resources for Education (CORE) website. I therefore explored several courses on this site, such as Traditional Chinese Culture Course which was produced by educators from Northwest University. The course resources include a course description, teaching plan, teaching materials assessment, reading list, teaching video and multimedia courseware. However, I had difficulty downloading the videos and multimedia courseware. I then looked at the lists of excellent courses from 2003 to 2007 published on the National Centre for Excellent Courses on the HE website and recognized several well-known experts in educational technology field in China who have been involved in developing courses. I believe that most novice lecturers or learners who teach and study educational technology, in particular educators and learners in under-developed areas in China, would wish to access and reuse these resources, and watch teaching videos. The centre for national excellent course resources website which publishes course information and links to the resources has 0.2 million views per day and the repository for storing the excellent course resources for reusing and sharing receives 0.4 million views per day.

A briefing paper on Open Educational Resources

Recently, I have been working with my colleagues, Sheila and Wilbert, looking at the latest developments and trends in Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives worldwide. JISC has a long term record of interest in sharing and re-using digital content and has already supported many institutional repository projects in the provision of free access to teaching and learning materials in HE/FE (such as Jorum). It appears that OER will have a significant impact on managing and accessing the existing repositories and in taking these initiatives forward as part of a global movement. We thought it might be useful to carry out a review of OERs that might benefit the JISC community in planning funding programs and in opening up discussions on future research directions concerning the use and re-use of digital content.

The work took much longer than we expected due to the complexity and rapid development of OERs. In the last few months, we have studied several well“known OER projects, such as MIT OCW, OpenLearn, Rice Connexions and have drawn invaluable lessons from them. We have reviewed a number of large scale studies on OERs to help gain a better understanding of the main issues in the field. In addition, by following OER blogs , David Wileys and Stephen Downes s blogs, we have been able to draw upon the latest thinking and debates on major issues. We also had a number of discussions with colleagues in CETIS, such as Phil and Lorna, and they have given us lots of valuable suggestions. We finally produced an OER briefing paper as a quick introduction to funding bodies, institutions and educators who are interested in OER initiatives. The paper includes three sections: a) the conceptual and contextual issues of Open Educational Resources; b) current OER initiatives: their scale, approaches, main issues and challenges; and c) trends emerging in Open Educational Resources, with respect to future research and activities.

The briefing paper is an initial attempt to get some input from the wider JISC community and get further debate started around the OER initiatives. It is intended to be a fluid document since the landscape on this subject is changing so rapidly at present. One of the ways we would like to keep it current would be to draw a group of people who are interested in OER together to continue to explore the issues, to share some thoughts and to participate in our discussions. Please contact Li Yuan ( or 01204903851) for more information about Open Content working group and further events at CETIS.