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.

MOOCs and technology-enhanced learning: next steps and challenges

Last week, I gave a presentation at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar, where I explored the opportunities MOOCs provide for UK universities to develop their brand internationally and to expand their international market through online learning. My slides and transcripts below:


This diagram illustrates how MOOCs may offer a low-cost, flexible alternative for those ‘glocal‘ students, who choose to study in universities in their home countries but also gain an international experience (something that is highly valued) through studying courses online (MOOCs, the OU’s OpenLeran, etc.) that are integrated into their own university curriculum.

For institutions providing the free content, these courses can help universities to market their higher degree programmes and recruit new students who are better prepared to study on-campus in the UK, or through fully online degrees without leaving their own countries.   Untitled.png1

As an example, we looked at the Web Science MOOC created by the university of Southampton which has been integrated into a computer science course by Beijing Normal University (BNU). 87 first year undergraduate students who are studying an introduction to computer science have signed up for the course on Futurelearn. In addition to attending lessons offered by BNU, they also watch videos online and discuss the learning materials with their peers and the tutor face to face or online. Several online seminars are delivered by academics from the University of Southampton. Online facilitations and assessments are provided by the local tutor on the Wolearn platform in China during the MOOC study. Flipped and blended learning approaches are used to make online and face to face learning more effective and integrated between the BUN course and the Web Science MOOCs.

This experiment showed how we can use MOOCs to explore new paths and models for affordable, flexible and effective international education through online or blended provisions. Furthermore, to help us understand how MOOCs might be developed to enhance UK universities’ reputation internationally and to better market their courses to potential students through partnerships with universities in other countries.

Not surprisingly, one of the challenges mentioned again during the penal discussion session was business models for MOOCs. It is clear that some institutions have seen the new opportunities presented by MOOCs as a useful motivation for re-examining their current provision and think about ways in which they can change and diversify, and consider MOOCs as a part of new strategic direction for future online provision nationally and internationally.


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.

MOOCs and Higher Education: What is next?

I gave a presentation on “MOOCs and Higher Education” at the SCONUL annual conference in Dublin last week. In the presentation, I examined the potential of MOOCs as a disruptive innovation and an emerging technology in higher education, and explored the concept, business model and trends of the MOOC phenomenon. The full presentation is available at here.

The Gartner Hype Cycle has been widely used to illustrate the processes of maturity, adoption and applications of emerging technologies in society. A question I posed in my presentation was, will MOOCs fall into this pattern of technology adoption?


If we take the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford in 2011 as the starting point for the hype cycle, then 2012 was, ‘The Year of the MOOC’! This was manifested by the rapid spread of media coverage and the elite institutions forming partnerships to launch online courses shown as the upward trend of the graph moving toward the “peak of inflated expectations.” In 2013, less optimistic news and research findings have been appearing, e.g. the recent announcement from Coursera, which deflated expectations of MOOCs shown as the downward trend of the graph line.

Some questions:

  • Are MOOCs beginning the short journey into the ‘trough of disillusionment’?
  • Is the time approaching for MOOCs providers and universities to figure out what works and what doesn’t work?
  • Sometime in the future, if and when MOOCs enter the ‘slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivities’, will they then have a real impact on the delivery of higher education?

The answers to these questions remain to be found in the future!

To MOOC or not to MOOC

The question to MOOC or not to MOOC has perhaps been discussed in many institutions’ committee meetings recently, such as this tongue-in-cheek one on Tony Bates’ blog! While some leading universities in North America and Europe have joined Coursera to offer MOOCs, a recently published report from Queen’s University in Canada, which made recommendations about the institution’s policy and strategic planning on online learning, suggested that “Queen’s does not become involved in MOOCs until and unless there is greater support for online learning (within the university)”. It has also been reported that some institutions have been denied the opportunity to offer MOOCs through Coursera because, as a company policy, it only works with ‘elite institutions’, e.g. the ‘top five’ universities in countries outside of North America. No doubt discussions on what institutions should do about MOOCs will continue until the hype cycle has passed.

Coursera recently announced that it made $220,000 profit in the first quarter of 2013 by charging for verified completion certificates and receiving revenue from Amazon through learners buying books suggested by the professors headlining MOOC courses. This ‘brand + content = revenue’ model seems a win-win business proposition. Students pay for certificates from elite universities and the professors sell more of the books they’ve published to a mass audience, publicised via recorded lectures on their MOOC courses. In this case, many would argue that online learning should be considered a pedagogical choice (e.g. cMOOCs) rather than a cynical money making approach to education.

Whether institutions have been involved in MOOCs or not, it is clear that the development of MOOCs has re-focused institutional attention on how to provide effective online learning in order to gain competitive advantages in a global educational market. As the Queen’s University report suggested, the university needs to have “a plan that sets clear goals for online learning, identifies the resources needed, and makes the necessary organizational and structural changes”. Institutions will need to rethink their organisational structures and business models to make teaching and learning more effective, pedagogically and financially, either via face-to-face or online. Following on from the recently published CETIS MOOCs report, we believe that there is a need to make sense of the new pedagogical approaches and business models around MOOCs and other forms of online courses, and produce an analysis to help inform about institutions’ policy and strategic planning with regard to online distance learning.

Developing a sustainable OER ecosystem in HE

I gave a presentation at the Open Ed conference 2010 in Barcelona last week to share some lessons learned from the UKOER projects for sustainable OER releasing and thoughts on developing sustainable OER ecosystems in Higher Education.

The UKOER programme has provided an opportunity for funding bodies, institutions and academics work together to explore cultural, political and financial as well as technical issues related to OER releasing and reusing. In this presentation, I focused on institutional projects funded by the UKOER programme and discussed how different approaches and models have been adopted to address long term sustainability issues regarding OERs releasing and reusing beyond the funding period. Furthermore, I employed an ecological approach to examine the UKOER programme in order to capture the comprehensive views and interactions between stakeholders around OERs and indicate where change should happen in order to develop sustainable OER ecosystems.

The ecological approach provides a useful framework for analysing and examining the development of sustainable OERs in the UK context. It illustrates how government agencies and funding bodies, institutions, subject centres and individuals should engage in the production and reuse of OERs within the particular educational system and articulate the key interactions, dependencies, and influences in OER ecosystems. In this case, the UK government committed to the establishment of a content infrastructure which is professionally developed and organised to support informal and formal education and catalyse innovations in higher education. The UKOER programme used national funding models both as an incentive and as a steering device to encourage institutions, subject centres and individuals to promote openness and culture of sharing in education and explore issues regarding sustainable OERs releasing and reusing. In order to achieve sustainable OER ecosystems, it is clear that higher education institutions will need to explore new business models and improve efficiencies through OERs, e.g. reduction in cost and improvements in quality. Educators and learners will need to participate in communities of practice where OER development and reuse becomes a normal consequence of educational activities. This meso level (national educational system level) OER ecosystem will rely for success on the sustainability of OER projects at the micro level (institutions, subject centres and individuals) and, if successful, will eventually foster the global sustainable OER ecosystem at macro level. The PowerPoint of the presentation is available at slideshare.

#cetis10: Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions

My colleague Simon, John and I will run two sessions on Cheaper, flexible, effective institutions at JISC CETIS conference next week. David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, urged that universities need to find cheaper and more flexible ways to teach in “tough times”. The Browne review sets out a great political imperative for institutions to think about new funding streams and innovative approaches to widening participation. There a growing criticism of inefficiencies in Higher Education, including the costs of teaching and of producing learning materials and resources.

So how can we respond to these issues, in the light of political and economic reality, and in terms of the contribution from learning technology? In the first session, we will look at “technology, politics and economics”. Different political and economic assumptions, attitudes or views are likely to give different solutions to our question. In this session, we proposed five models of higher education in order stimulate the debate and discussions.

  • State funded – HE could be a service provided free by governments funded from tax revenue to enable all citizens to develop their talents and interests to a higher level, and to benefit the national economy
  • Free-market – HE could be a business where HEIs charge full economic fees to students in return for giving them knowledge, skills, professional training and qualifications, networks of contacts, and prestige to use later in working life
  • Business-run – Higher-level education and training could be provided by businesses for their employees, as part of a process of managing their talent pool, and as a way to attract and retain the best employees
  • Charity funded – HEIs could be charities dedicated to spreading learning and its benefits to as many people as possible, including the poor and disadvantaged across the world, using volunteer staff where possible
  • DIY U – HE could be a self-organised system through which individuals decide on their higher learning needs and collaborate with other learners to achieve them using freely available resources where possible.

The participants will be asked to form groups around these positions or suggest other positions for group discussion. We expect that a rich picture for the vision from each position will be presented and some bullet points to cover the practical aspects of learning technology developments that could help to get there, and the role of JISC / CETIS.

In the second session, we will focus on “community and learner support” to explore how technology can help in the processes of learner support at different stages, either directly or through facilitating communities which can support the processes. In each case, who would be the members of the relevant community, and how can technology work for them?

Social software and e-portfolio tools are prime candidates to help with community and learner support, but how can this be done effectively? Can other learning technologies help as well, towards the goal of cheaper and more flexible HE provision that is still effective?

We would like to invite anyone who is interested in the future of Higher Education to share your ideas and thoughts in those sessions. We would like you to think about how cheaper, flexible, effective institutions could function, in terms of technology, politics and economics, and how low-cost, flexible and effective community and support for learners could be provided, how could we practically get there, and how could JISC and CETIS contribute?

OER in action, no limit

I attended the Open Learning conference held by Nottingham University last week. It was a really impressive event which brought together presenters and academics from the University of Nottingham, OER Africa and the JISC UK OER programme. The key note speaker Catherine Ngugi, project Director of OER Africa, gave an inspirational talk about “Open Educational Resources in Developing Countries”. She reflected their experiences in supporting institutions in Africa and other countries to create effective collaboration partnerships for developing OERs on health education. She also outlined how the concept of OER could benefit higher education systems, institutions, academics and students on the continent and around the world. Luke Mckend from Google introduced Google’s YouTube Edu initiative and demonstrated how to use Google data analytic tools to gather useful information for educational usage and how to track where the users come from and how they interact with YouTube’s hosted videos, which I found to be very interesting and useful.

One of the themes of the conference was open learning at the University of Nottingham. Professor Christine Ennew, Pro Vice Chancellor for Internationalisation and Dr Wyn Morgan, Director of Teaching and Learning from the University shared their vision and strategy for making learning materials available openly. A number of academics from Nottingham university also reported the progress and actions on provision of OERs in the University, including The JISC funded BERLiN project, Nottingham’s OER repository “u-Now” and technologies used to support Open Learning at the university, such as “Xerte Online Toolkits”, a tool for creating rich interactivity and “XPERT” for sharing and discovering of OER via RSS. The conference also provided opportunities for a number of other JISC UK OER projects to showcase their work, share ideas and discuss some common issues across different institutions. Jackie Milne from JISC Legal provided advice on IPR and considerations for making material available openly.

It is clear that more and more institutions in the UK and worldwide are joining the OER movement and more and more academics are publishing their course materials on the web for people to use freely anywhere in the world. However, to me, the most inspiring thought from the conference was how we should think about OER beyond resources, institutions and nations. Professor Andy Lane from Open University in his presentation pointed out that designing for Open Learning needed to consider that learners want whole courses with pay as you go and on – demand accreditation. Neil Butcher, Strategist for OER Africa, introduced two OER-related innovative programmes from African universities. One of the universities is developing an entire online distance learning programme based on high quality OERs available worldwide and all learning materials will be delivered to learners’ mobile devices. The university expects the programme to be self-sustaining in 4 years. He suggested that the UK OER community should engage with this demand and build partnerships and networks to make best use of the potential of OERs. I came away thinking that for OER the potential seems boundless and with no limit.