MOOCs are Coming to Britain
I'm a big fan of MOOCs, and have taken several Coursera courses already. For those not familiar with a MOOC, it stands for Massive Open Online Course, and sees leading universities from around the world offering courses over the web for free. Courses regularly attract thousands of students, with the Coursera record seeing over 150,000 students register to study a course on logic and arguing from Duke University.
Most of the institutions involved in this phenomenon have been American, with edX counting the likes of MIT and Harvard amongst its supporters. Whilst some UK universities have joined Coursera, they will now have a site all of their own, with the launch of Future Learn.
The new site will feature courses from the Open University, King's College London, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, East Anglia, Leeds, Lancaster, Southampton, Cardiff, Birmingham and St Andrews.
The courses are set to begin next year, with politicians fully behind the scheme.
This could "revolutionise conventional models of formal education", Universities Minister David Willetts told the BBC.
"The UK must be at the forefront of developments in educational technology. Massive Open Online Courses 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," said Mr Willetts.
Whilst geography doesn't matter when studying online, UK universities are keen not to miss out on this growing trend, especially at a time when many are looking to grow their global grand to attract international students.
Martin Bean, the Open University's vice-chancellor, said that the arrival of online courses meant that UK universities could either "stick their heads in the sand" or rise to the international challenge.
"What the web has taught us is that you can take nothing for granted - those who sit back and hope it goes away will lose," he said.
Not everyone is a fan of MOOCs however. In an interview conducted last month, Howard Horton, President, New England College of Business and Finance, said that he didn't think MOOCs would be anything more than a flash in the pan.
"I don’t think MOOCs will be much of a factor in executive development and, quite frankly, I am not sure that online courses with 100,000 or more simultaneous students will be any more than a “flash in the pan” a few years from now in higher education, period." he told me.