Over the past six years the MOOC has whirled through the Gartner Hype Cycle – sparked into life by an innovation trigger (great idea!), travelled up the peak of inflated expectations (they’ll replace universities), down the trough of disillusionment (they’re not that good), ascended the slope of enlightenment (ah, we get it!), and is now bustling along the path of productivity.

Doing nicely, thank-you very much.

According to data collected by Class Central and reported in ed-tech resource platform EdSurge, last year 23 million people worldwide registered for a MOOC course for the first time ever, while the total number of students who signed up for at least one course was 58 million, up from some 35 million the previous year.

The main players remain CourseraedXFutureLearn and Udacity, while XuetangX (China’s Tsinghua University and Ministry of Education, and the only non-English language platform) is now making significant inroads with six million registered last year.

EdSurge reports that last year 2,600 new courses were announced (up from 1,800 the previous year), taking the total number of MOOCs to 6,850 from over 700 universities.

The venerable University of Oxford also put its toe in the water with its first MOOC offering, through edX, adding its name to a list of top rankers such as Stanford, Yale, MIT, Singapore, Trinity College Dublin, Sorbonne and 600-odd other universities that offer MOOCs.

Corporate learning

Significant change is afoot in MOOC land, however: there is a marked drift away from free to paid including charges for certificates, graded assignment and content with EdSurge noting: “All the major providers already have or plan to launch courses that are paid only.”

In a competitive world, many learners reasonably want credentials resulting from successful study, and appear prepared to pay for their courses.

Also trending is a decline in students utilising MOOCs for “interest only” subjects and a rise in those wishing to improve their career prospects by studying skills-based courses centred on science, business and management, technology and computing.

MOOCs that can help people get ahead will get ahead themselves.

And it’s not only universities providing offerings. As Online Course Report notes, US-based companies Microsoft and Google top the list of other global institutions offering MOOCs.

Here we see another trend – many large corporations are experimenting with internal MOOCs for corporate learning purposes.

The biggest recent change to MOOCs, says Class Central, is that they have become more available with a significant rise in the number of courses that users can start immediately which means that “instead of tens of thousands of people learning together, everybody is learning at their own pace and in much smaller cohorts”.

MOOCs, it says, “have evolved to meet the needs of their students”.

Could there be a lesson there for more traditional, highered institutions?

The Australian context

Local universities have developed and are offering many innovative and free MOOCs, but progress has been relatively slow, possibly because of restrictive copyright and licensing rules.

Last year Open Education Licensing announced it would be launching an open education licensing toolkit to help local institutions to navigate the “issues around copyright and openness in open online education”.

Nevertheless, this has not stopped Austrade from thinking big about the potential of MOOCs.

In April last year it launched a “roadmap” for how Australian educators could (possibly) market and utilise online technology to secure 110 million international students studying local courses by 2025.

Today, a variety of MOOCs is on offer in Australia and the number is growing.

Many of the local MOOCs can be found in The Good Universities Guide, with courses ranging from business management, computing and information technology, to education and training, nursing, science and agriculture.

MOOCs are also offered by several TAFE institutions.

Further, Open Universities Australia has developed its own MOOC platform, Open2Study, with some 140 courses available from Australian universities and TAFEs.


to get daily updates on what's happening in the world of Australian Higher Education