The Open University has announced a new ‘massive open online course’ platform to UK universities to offer free, distance-learning courses over the web.
The university has set up a new company, called Futurelearn Ltd., which will build a single online destination through which a number of universities will offer free courses. The company will be headed by Simon Nelson, a former BBC executive who helped to launch the iPlayer content streaming service.
The following universities have already signed up to the scheme: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Exeter, King’s College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews and Warwick.
The technology specifications of the system have yet to be decided.
David Willetts, the minister for universities and science, welcomed the initiative. The UK must be at the forefront of developments in education technology," he said. "Massive open online courses (MOOCS) 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."
Futurelearn will initially be funded by the Open University, although a spokesperson told Information Age that it will be "looking for future partners. Some universities will put money in, some won’t." The scheme has received no other government funding.
The spokesperson said that the universities’ interest in giving learning materials away for free online is to promote their paid-for and residential courses.
The Open University is the most advanced provider of online learning materials in the UK, as its course are all based on distance learning. The OU’s OpenLearn platform, launched in 2006, contains around 11,000 hours of learning materials in over 600 study units, and attracts an average 400,000 unique users per month.