U.K. educational establishments are exploring the potential benefits of offering free, open, online courses to students on global platforms.
MOOCs -- massive open online courses -- are courses offered by universities and schools worldwide on platforms including Coursera and EdX. Courses are run for a number of weeks, and students who sign up are able to watch video lectures, submit coursework, take quizzes and discuss topics with other students.
While individual study in subjects ranging from computing to ethics is useful, and the high demand of these courses shows the need for access to education, platforms have found high drop-out rates despite millions of signups.
I currently take three courses on Coursera, and it can be difficult to keep up while working full time, but I see tremendous value in these free, university-grade courses. The monetary factor for educational establishments is the possibility for students to sign up for full, credit-awarding courses, or to pay for certificates to prove their studies.
While university fees in the U.K. continue to rise and government funding drops, these institutions have to find other ways of both promoting themselves and generating a profit -- and the Web could prove to be a useful tool.
While many U.S. universities are already offering courses online, the U.K. has been slower on the uptake. However, the U.K.'s own MOOC course, FutureLearn, is soon to launch. So far, 21 universities have signed up to offer courses ranging from linguistics to dentistry and history.
The U.K. universities include Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, Warwick, Bristol, Reading and Southampton. In addition, Trinity College, Dublin will contribute.
Launching this month, FutureLearn hopes to attract 20,000 students to the eight courses starting this year.
Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser to Pearson, told the BBC that the scheme's launch represents an overdue overhaul in the U.K.'s education sector. Barber said:
"The models of higher education that marched triumphantly across the globe in the second half of the 20th Century require radical and urgent transformation. My fear is that the nature of change is incremental and the pace of change too slow.
The establishment of FutureLearn represents an important step in realising this change and seizing the opportunities technology offers in creating a broader, deeper and more exciting education system."
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