Vice Chancellor David Greenaway explains why the University of Nottingham will be among the first to offer free courses through Futurelearn, the first UK-led MOOC platform.
The popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has boomed since their emergence in 2008. To date, the United States has been at the forefront of developments, with platforms such as edX, Udacity and Coursera rising to prominence over the last twelve months.
The promise of access to free online courses, from an ever increasing number of higher education providers, has led to strong global student engagement with these platforms. Coursera has over 3 million registered students and currently offers courses from 62 universities. Futurelearn, the first UK-led MOOC platform, will be launched in September 2013. With its broad range of existing open courseware, it seemed natural that the University of Nottingham should be among the first UK institutions to offer free online courses through the site. Futurelearn offers partner institutions the opportunity to work alongside leading UK higher education institutions, such as the Open University, and showcase the excellence in teaching and learning for which the UK is globally renowned.
Offering learning opportunities beyond the traditional on-campus environment to connect with a wider population of learners is a compelling reason to engage with Futurelearn. The University of Nottingham already has a unique global presence, with the University of Nottingham Ningbo China and University of Nottingham 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’.
The collaboration with Futurelearn partners, which so far includes 17 universities, the British Library and British Council, allows us to embrace the principles of ‘collaborate to compete’. Adhering to these principles can help maintain the UK’s position as a global leader in the delivery of top quality higher education. The collaboration will also help UK providers meet raised student expectations brought about by the success of US-led MOOC initiatives.
In addition to the external facing benefits on offer, MOOCs provide an excellent opportunity to review and inform our own practice in the areas of distance, online and blended learning. In turn, this is stimulating enhanced learning experiences for our own registered students and driving innovation in the use of technology to support delivery of our taught curriculum. We have already experimented with a NOOC (Nottingham Open Online Course) on sustainability. This attracted 700 staff and students across our campuses in Nottingham, Malaysia and China.
We can also use MOOCs and Futurelearn to investigate how we engage with students at various stages of their learning journey. For example, we could meet the needs of prospective students by helping inform their decisions about which courses or pathways to follow. At the other end of the student life cycle, we could build life-long relationships with alumni, who could return to our open, online offerings to facilitate continued professional development.
Engaging with Futurelearn will help provide a strategic advantage for UK institutions in the longer term. Initially, access to open resources and open online courses was always provided on the understanding that no formal accreditation would be available. The open learning landscape is shifting, with a focus on a shared experience and recognition becoming increasingly central to the student experience. With certification and accreditation based on free-to-access content becoming a reality, the credibility of such initiatives is further bolstered by high profile US institutions such as MIT, Stanford and Harvard being early movers in this space. Futurelearn offers UK institutions the ability to engage in this transformational arena and harness the power of a collaborative national response to the growing global demand for online learning.
Professor David Greenaway is Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham
MOOCs provide an excellent opportunity to review and inform our own practice in the areas of distance, online and blended learning.