Review of the Global MOOC Movement in 2019
Abstract: The global MOOC movement developed steadily in 2019. International platforms such as Coursera maintained growth in the number of courses and microcredentials. A number of new educational products or service models have also been created this year.
In China, the number of MOOC learners has reached 270 million, and the number of courses has also reached 15,000, suggesting that China has a leading position in the global MOOC movement. Most MOOC platforms emphasise modulisation and collaboration between college teachers and industry experts in instructional design. At the same time, new technologies such as AI are being used to improve the function of the platforms and educational research is being used to optimise MOOC practice. The role of MOOCs serving lifelong learning has been strengthening. Capacity is highlighted in course and platform design. The typical practice is to increase learning support through a mentorship model and to build a MOOCs-based lifelong learning results certification system. Blended or hybrid teaching based on MOOCs has continued to attract attention in the field of higher education and become a breakthrough in higher education. Coursera released Coursera for Campus in 2019, with the aim of strengthening the sharing of courses between different universities with finalised products. Chinese MOOC platforms had an earlier start in this regard and adopted the “resource + tools” model using MOOCs and promoting the reform of classroom instruction, which is widely recognised by educational administrative departments, universities, and teachers. At the same time, there were also some “negative events” in 2019, and the issue of the sustainability of MOOCs remains an urgent problem to be addressed.
Keywords: MOOCs; Lifelong learning; Blended learning; Research on MOOCs; MOOC platform design; Business model
Since Coursera and edX were founded in 2012, the concept of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) swept the world with the positive involvement of top universities such as Stanford University, Harvard University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Discussions of MOOCs became a hot topic in the field of higher education. MOOCs have been evolving for over eight years. Over the past few years, the X-Learning Cener of Peking University has reviewed and written up the MOOC movements in the years of 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, and 2018. Focusing on 2019, what has happened in the field of MOOCs? What MOOC movement trends are reflected in the events?
In order to obtain comprehensive information, this study collected relevant MOOC reports from Class Central1, the Chronicle of Higher Education2, Inside Higher Education3, EdSurge,4 and other education websites, as well as blogs, news, and reports from Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, Udacity, XuetangX, China University MOOC (icourse.163.org), and other major MOOC platforms. It summarises the following MOOC development trends in 2019:
1. Seen from the overall trends, steady progress has been made in the construction of MOOC courses and platform;
2. The MOOCs’ key attribute of serving lifelong learning has been reinforced;
3. Blended teaching has been a breakthrough in the field of MOOCs in higher education;
4. The issue of the sustainability of MOOCs remains an urgent problemto be addressed.
I. Steady progress in the construction of courses and platforms
According to statistics from Class Central, Coursera had 45 million learners and 38 million courses by the end of 2019, an increase of 8 million students and 700 courses compared with 2018. The number of edX learners increased by about 7 million with the total reaching 25 million, and the courses increased by 375, totalling 2,650. Excluding China, the total number of MOOC learners has reached 110 million, and more than 900 universities have participated in MOOC construction, producing 13,500 courses, 820 micro credentials, and 50 degree programmes (Shah, 2019). In China, outstanding national MOOC courses have set a good example and guided MOOC development. There are 270 million Chinese MOOC learners, with 15,000 courses (Ministry of Education, 2019) by August 2019 according to relevant documents from the Ministry of Education. Good results have also been achieved in a number of regional MOOC platforms in 2019. Users of the Arabic language MOOC platforms have surpassed 2 million, and the number of courses have expanded from 10 to over 100 (Pickard, 2019a). The number of learners of JMOOCs, i.e., Japanese MOOC platforms, has surpassed 1 million with more than 300 courses. The number of education partners of the Spanish language MOOC platform Miriadax is now more than 100, and new models such as offline training camps have been piloted inside the platforms. The number of users of Indian MOOC platform SWAYAM has surpassed 10 million, and it offers as many as 1,000 courses.
Higher clarity in terms of the business lines and models of major MOOC platforms is the most essential characteristic of MOOCs in the year of 2018 (Ji et al., 2019). The types of courses provided by Coursera, edX, FutureLearn, and other large-scale platforms include independent single courses, more systematic microcredentials and online degree programmes. There are B2C businesses offering courses to individuals and also B2B businesses oriented towards enterprises and institutions (such as Coursera for Business and edX for Business). In 2019, the various kinds of businesses operated by Coursera, edX, and other platforms also showed a basic trend of overall increase. For example, Coursera added another 90 Specialisation courses and five degree programmes and launched a professional certificate programme. edX has added another five MicroMasters programmes and 11 professional certificate programmes. FutureLearn has added nine serialised course programmes and three academic certificates programmes. Udacity has added another five nanodegree programmes (Shah, 2019).
1.Course products: Intensify modulisation and industry cooperation
At the same time as institutions of higher learning have actively contributed to the course construction and the number of courses has continued to steadily increase, platforms like Coursera and edX have continued to intensify “modulisation” and “stackable usage” of courses to improve the reuse of courses and enrich the range of educational products. From single courses to microcredentials to degree programmes, the number of courses has gradually increased, and the teaching contents have gradually deepened and systematised with the progress of each step. Learners with different demands can choose different types of educational products to reach their learning goals; whereas platforms and course providers can lower the development cost of courses by using “building blocks” (three to five courses consisting of microcredentials, and 10 to 20 courses or three to five microcredentials consisting of degree programmes). For example, CS50, a course very popular with learners in edX, appears in four different microcredentials in 2019. In other words, the increase or decrease of modular content based on CS50 can create new course products with different priorities and even different training objectives. The use of this concept in course building is a highly valuable reference, especially considering its current achievements as a single course.
Another major characteristic of course construction is its emphasis on the connection between teaching content and industry and market needs. It encourages institutions or people in the industry to participate in course development. Taking edX as an example, the platform has officially initiated the selection of the edX Prize to honour MOOC teachers making major contributions and innovations to their communities and to show the important role of MOOCs in today’s educational changes (Wang, 2017). Over the past few years, the teams winning the prize have largely been single courses developed by renowned universities and teachers, but the 2019 prize went to the teaching team for the professional certificate of C Programming with Lima. This project fully embodies the advantages of joint cooperative course development between industries and colleges, providing students with knowledge and skills highly relevant to their careers. Furthermore, the creation of an open source learning environment has offered solutions to large-scale formative assessment in programme learning, and helped students better overcome some of the difficulties that new learners may encounter.
2. Platform function: Strengthen the application of new technologies such as artificial intelligence
In terms of platform function, all platforms stepped up efforts to optimise the function design of the use of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) to improve the learning experience. For example, courses are chosen according to recommendations and the learning path is intelligently planned according to a learner’s learning objectives and experience in via a machine learning algorithm. The learners’ learning needs are identified through an AI chat or virtual learning buddies, increasing the sense of interaction as well as the intelligence of the system. An immersive learning environment is developed to help learners better understand complex concepts and complete practical projects.
Early in 2018, XuetangX released the smart learning assistant “Xiao Mu.” At the 2019 International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, “Xiao Mu” appeared as a key case in Vice Education Minister Zhong Denghua’s speech, Intelligent Education Leading the Future: China's Understanding and Action. As an intelligent learning assistant, “Xiao Mu” can perform functions including reminding learners to make learning plans when choosing courses, giving reminders at different learning stages, and monitoring the learning process. Furthermore, “Xiao Mu” can interact with learners in the form of Q&A and even chat.
Coursera has also tried to decrease the drop-off rate of its courses using a machine learning algorithm. Through analysing a large number of learning logs, Coursera found that most learners drop out at the beginning of the courses and at the stage of grading work. They fall into three typical groups, including non-starters, dabblers, and explorers. With the help of a machine learning algorithm, Coursera is now able to identify learners who are at the edge of dropping off and deduce how and when to intervene. At present, these interventions are mainly achieved through information pushes. In Coursera's experiment, pushing individual pieces of information has increased the existing unit completing rate by 10% (Lockemer, 2019).
Another of Coursera’s prominent function improvements in 2019 is the release of Coursera Labs (Maggioncalda, 2019). Through Coursera Labs, learners are able to complete practical exercises or hands-on projects without unnecessary downloads, software installation, or configuration. This function can be widely used in computer programming and development courses. In order to further enhance the function of Coursera Labs, Coursera purchased the startup Rhyme Softworks, whose team is mainly engaged in the development of interactive projects based on browsers and cloud technology. Rhyme Softworks’ products allow users direct access to virtual environments using browsers, and developers can complete various kinds of tools and even nest relevant teaching videos and instructions needed by the projects in a built-in virtual environment.
In addition, Coursera has also further enhanced its notes function (Sun, 2019) to facilitate learning. Learners can now quickly add screenshots, mark them, and add their own thoughts during the course of watching teaching videos. They can directly highlight the lecture content provided by the teachers using text selection, which is then automatically recorded by the background system. An individual “note” button has been added to courses so learners can quickly view and retrieve all their notes.
3. Advance MOOC practice with investigations and studies
Analysis and research on innovative teaching methods and learning behaviours are also regarded as effective ways to improve the instruction quality and completion rate of MOOCs. Academic conferences such as Learning with MOOC5, Learning at Scale6, and European MOOCs Stakeholders Summit7 (EMOOCs) have been held once a year around the world. Coursera and edX also hold annual global partner meetings, when partners are invited to share their MOOC experiences and the results of academic research. The aforementioned meetings have also attracted the attention of a large number of MOOCs practitioners and researchers. The research from the EMOOCs sub-forum “Self-Regulated Learning and MOOCs” showed that more than half of learners are not fully prepared for learning via MOOCs. It also showed that learners with strong self-regulation abilities are more able to work according to their own initiative, more likely to repeatedly watch course materials, and tend to organise their learning process in a more flexible way. Therefore, learners can consciously improve their learning using a strategy of self-regulated learning (Winter, 2019). The platform and course development teams can also give better trainings and instructions on MOOC learning and include strategies like goal setting and learning planning in their teaching designs.
Most major MOOC platforms also have their own analytical research teams. These teams focus on improving the functions of the platform and offering references for the development of course products more suitable for the needs of customers through user investigation and learning data analysis. For example, edX conducted an investigation of 1,000 learners aged over 18 in 2019 in which more than one third of the informants indicated that they lack the skills needed for their job positions. Data skills, business skills, and other project management, leadership, and soft skills are the areas with the most shortages (Medros, 2019). With the goal of better understanding their learners, FutureLearn’s research team launched a questionnaire survey of 7,000 learners in 2018. The learners were divided into seven different types in three major categories, and the prototypes of each sub-type were described. The details are shown in Table 1 (Pickard, 2019b).
Table 1 The Seven Types of Learner Prototypes Discovered by FutureLearn
1. Highlight capacity orientation in course and platform design
As early as 2017, Coursera CEO Rick Levin pointed out at EMOOCs 2017 that the majority of MOOC learners are not school students but lifelong learners who are already working and hope to pursue professional and personnel career development (Wang et al., 2018). Coursera’s survey on learning results in 2019 has once again reached the same conclusion, that is, that 87% of MOOC participants learn for career development, such as a promotion, a higher salary, or the start of a new career.
Against this background, Coursera has highlighted the orientation of capacity and industry in the design of courses and platforms in recent years, meeting lifelong learners’ needs for specialised development the greatest possible degree. In 2018, Coursera designed the “Skills Graph” function and asked teachers to add a clear ability tag to the course during the design and release. When learners click into the introduction of a course, they will see directly the skills they may obtain from learning it.
On this basis, Coursera updated the release of “Global Skills Index”8 in 2019. This index summarises the capacity ranking of different countries and regions in the three fields of business, science and technology, and data science, and puts forward specific capacity requirements for workers in different trades, such as science and technology, finance, consulting, insurance, manufacturing, and media. For example, the top scientific capacity for workers in finance is data modelling, while the top business skill for workers in scientific technology is design thinking. The role that the release of the “Global Skill Index” plays in serving lifelong learning is as follows. On the one hand, it may design and develop course products and contents which are more compliant with skill development requirements for learners according to skills graphs from the perspective of platform and course developers. On the other hand, learners can choose pertinent courses in accordance with their own field, trade, and skill requirements.
2. Intensify learning support by making use of the mentorship model
The need to design and develop course resources targeted at lifelong learners is a consensus among all platforms. Neither Coursera nor edX has set up specialised courses for professional certificates. Udacity developed a nanodegree programme by building on the “on-demand” platform strategy. In order to further improve learning quality and improve the learning experience, Udacity also released an updated model for Personal Mentorship and Career Coaching in 2019. After completing registration in the programme, each nano learner will be assigned an exclusive tutor who offers support in the form of learning advice, trade instruction, and career planning. In addition, the nanodegrees programme will also give feedback and assistance on CVs, personal statements, and interviews. Udacity has indicated that no other online learning platform is able to provide such comprehensive 1-1 mentorship services across the whole process, and that the platform also hopes that the graduation rate of the nano-degree programme will increased from 34% to 60% with the help of the updated mentorship model (Thrun, 2019). The mentorship model itself can be regarded as a value-added service, which is part of Udacity’s attempt to create profit and attract more paying students.
3. Planning a certification system for lifelong learning results
Another major expression of how MOOCs continue to better serve lifelong learning lies in the accreditation and accumulation of lifelong learning results. In 2019, the European MOOC Union jointly made up of FutureLearn, Miriadax, FUN, and EduOpen officially released the MOOCs-based Common Microcredentials Framework (CMF). This aims to solve the problems learners and employees face in the non-standardised names and traits of learning achievements in different countries and regions within the European Union (EU). It promotes the standardisation of MOOC learning experiences and the extensive recognition of MOOC learning in society. The updated CMF is coupled with the existing European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and is included in the EQF to aid in learner qualification assessment (Europearn MOOC Consortium, 2019). Moreover, EQF is the EU’s most formal certification standard for adult learning, lifelong learning, the labour market, and trans-regional exchanges (Zhang & Fu, 2013). To put CMF to true effect, the European MOOC Union has underscored that certified learning experiences and results should meet the quality requirements of qualification levels corresponding to the EQF. The learning period should reach 100-150 class hours, and the skills that the learners have acquired, and their accumulative credits, should be clearly marked. As Europe’s largest MOOC platform, FutureLearn now offers seven courses and programmes that are up to CMF standard; the shortest learning period is 10 weeks and the longest 13 weeks. The organization model of CMF is somewhat similar to the credit model being popularised in China now. The official MOOC platform of the Republic of Korea, K-MOOC, also supports learners in getting credits from the credit bank through MOOC learning. At present, there are 16 courses, including culture, tourism, and business administration for learners to choose from, and each course can be transferred into two to three credits in the credit bank.
III. Blended teaching becomes a breakthrough for MOOCs’ in the field of higher education
In addition to serving lifelong learning, all MOOC platforms also explore opportunities and ways to integrate MOOCs into higher education. Both MOOC researchers and MOOC practitioners believe that MOOCs cannot completely replace universities, but that they will create opportunities, challenges, and innovation in the existing higher education field (Zhong & Lin, 2015; Wang, 2016). During this process, blended teaching based on MOOC resources is of great importance. On the one hand, the number of MOOCs is increasing year by year and the number of related disciplines constantly expanding, laying a powerful resource base for blended teaching in schools. On the other hand, the coordination of MOOC resources and face-to-face teaching and learning gives teachers the chance to make individualised adjustments in line with the training objectives and the student characteristics, make teaching more targeted, and improve the efficiency and quality of course teaching. This is the advantage of blended teaching in contrast to simple large-scale online teaching.
On the issue of how to look at and use MOOC resources to carry out blended teaching, Agarwal (2013), founder of edX and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), proposed that the value of MOOCs lies in offering systematic courses carefully designed by renowned teachers in prestigious universities in a free and open way. Teachers from any school are able to make use of these courses in the same way as using textbooks or teaching materials, and design other learning and assessment activities according to their own needs to realise the reform of course teaching. In 2013, a teacher at San Jose State University began blended teaching using the MOOCs offered by Agarwal. The blended model of “completion of MOOC learning before class, exercises completed by individuals and groups in class” he adopted has increased the pass rate from 59% to 91% (Ghadiri et al., 2013). Over the last few years, the practice and research of blended teaching using MOOC resources has risen year by year. Eradze et al. (2019) conducted a literature review of 48 items of MOOCs-based empirical research of blended teaching, and found that college teachers tend to view MOOCs as a kind of driving condition or motivation rather than an alternative to teaching, or as an additional resource when they carry out blended teaching with MOOCs. In light of this, the use of MOOC resources for a flipped classroom is the main choice for most teachers.
In October 2019, Coursera released a new campus-oriented B2B service: Coursera for Campus. Coursera for Campus means that blended teaching based on MOOC resources is no longer just for individual university teachers, it is now a platform for wider operation. The service covers the following: 1) Universities can open up more than 3,600 independent courses developed by 190 universities and institutions in the Coursera course catalogue to its students, staff members and fellows by collecting fees for them, and teachers and students can expand their knowledge and skills with these courses; 2) The online courses provided by Coursera can be used as supplementary materials for university courses or enable the credit certification of certain courses, further improving the flexibility of talent cultivation inside the university with online learning and removeing the time and space restrictions of traditional teaching; 3) Teachers can make use of Coursera’s rich online course resources and platform advantages to create online or blended learning experiences for students.
Coursera for Campus allows teachers to organise various learning resources in a modular way in order to achieve specific teaching objectives and supports seamless connection with the university’s own learning management system (LMS) to provide a smoother learning experience. Teachers can track their students’ knowledge and capacity development level through the learning instruments panel and Coursera’s learning analysis tools. In the future, Coursera for Campus will also allow teachers to develop their own learning resources and assessment activities and put the relevant contents online to create new courses. To some extent, Coursera for Campus can be regarded as an expansion of Coursera’s former Coursera for Partners. It enables all universities carrying out online or blended teaching based on MOOCs to lower their development costs and to get started quickly by relying on the resources of prestigious universities and renowned teachers. To date, Coursera for Campus products have been trialled in 20 universities, including Duke University and the University of Michigan in the US and Manipal University in India.
Compared with Coursera and edX, Chinese platforms have moved more rapidly in carrying out blended teaching with MOOC resources, and they have closely integrated MOOC resources with university education and teaching reforms since their establishment. As early as 2014, XuetangX launched “CloudXuetang,” providing cooperative institutions with customised education cloud platform services. In 2015, China University MOOC released the “CloudSchool” platform. In addition to offering support to all college teachers to develop online private broadcast courses (small scale private online courses (SPOC)), it also encourages teachers to put in place online course resources and carry out blended teaching and flipped classroom practices inside the university. “CloudXuetang” and “CloudSchool” are basically consistent with Coursera for Campus in terms of function, but were released much earlier than Coursera. In addition, XuetangX also developed the “Rain Classroom” and matching smart tools such as a laser pointer with remote control. China University MOOC launched the “MOOC Classroom” application in 2019. Using “Rain Classroom” and “MOOC Classroom,” teachers can better connect online learning to class teaching. They can also quickly assess data on their students’ learning behaviours after class by launching comment sign-in, instant evaluation exercises, discussion and brainstorming, and other activities. As a result, the quantification and innovation of class teaching activities can be achieved to meet the changing objectives of class teaching.
In China, blended teaching based on MOOC resources has also been the subject of attention and support from the educational authorities. At the end of October 2019, the “Implementation Opinions of the Ministry of Education on the Construction of First-Class Undergraduate Courses” called on all the teachers to “use proper digital teaching instruments, to reform the university’s courses in combination with the reality of the university, to arrange 20-50% of teaching practice for students’ online autonomous learning, and to carry out flipped classroom and blended teaching with the natural integration of offline face-to-face tutorial based on MOOCs, exclusive online courses, and other online courses.” Among the 10,000 or so national first-class undergraduate courses, as many as 6,000 are online-offline blended first-class courses. China Education Daily also published an article entitled A MOOC Experiment Across Four Universities in Four Provinces, which gave a detailed description of how Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, Qinghai University, and Guizhou Institute of Technology all make use of the same MOOC resources to carry out student-centred blended teaching practice based on their own local situation. Against this background, all universities became more active in blended teaching based on MOOCs in 2019. Some universities have started to formulate policies, funding, and business support for blended teaching and have taken the initiative to seek cooperation with platforms like XuetangX and China University MOOC.
Overall, both Chinese and international practitioners regard blended teaching based on MOOC resources as a new breakthrough at the current stage of MOOC development and its integration with higher education. Chinese MOOC platforms are undoubtedly ahead of the platforms like Coursera and edX with regard to promoting the implementation of blended teaching in the form of finalised products. This can also be viewed as a major innovation and breakthrough in promoting the construction and application of MOOCs. For educational researchers, blended teaching with MOOC resources presents a number of questions that still need to be explored, such as models, methods, and strategies for blended teaching, requirements for teaching capacity in blended teaching, and how education equality and efficiency are affected by blended teaching. In the future, the blended teaching services offered by MOOC platforms will also become a new profit area that will enable them to achieve sustainable development.
IV. The issue of sustainability of MOOCs remains an urgent problem to be addressed
The issue of the sustainable development of MOOCs has received much attention and criticism. In recent years, there have been frequent statements such as “MOOCs have died” or “the development of MOOCs has slowed down.” Seen from the perspective of the global development of MOOCs in 2019, there have indeed been some “negative events.” For example, the Australian MOOC platform Open2Study officially closed in 2019 (Bowden, 2019). The platform was founded in 2013 and had nearly 2 million learners before its closure, and was also one of the few MOOC platforms that continued to provide free course certificates. The Global Freshman Academy project jointly released by edX and Arizona State University almost came to an end in 2019. The project started in 2015 and enabled learners to freely choose and learn courses within the project, with courses paid and transferred to formal credits of Arizona State University at their completion. The project received great attention when it launched and was regarded as an important trial of MOOC credit certification and transfer. The project fully embodied the integration of MOOCs with higher education, as well as the goal of lowering the cost of degrees by online means. However, after several years of operation, the actual level of participation in the project was not ideal. Now, only three courses remain open, and the person in charge of the project at Arizona State University stated that the university has switched its energy to a new project named Earned Admission (McKenzie, 2019), though the project is still in operation on edX. Compared with two years earlier, Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn have clearly slowed down their exploration of new models and new products. It seems that all platforms have adopted a relatively stable operation strategy, and received less exposure in the media and at international conferences compared with a few years ago.
The low completion rate and high drop-off rate of MOOCs is a major issue facing the sustainable development of MOOCs. Previous research has shown that the completion rate of most of the MOOC courses should be around 5% (Jordan, 2014; Loeckx, 2016). An essay published in Science in 2019 analysed the learning retention rate of learners on MOOC platforms. The study tracked 2012-2018 course learners registered on Harvardx and MITx and found that the retention rate of users on the MOOC platforms decreases with the passage of time. Taking users registered in 2012-2013 as an example, only 8% of users still had course learning behaviours in 2017-2018. Only 7% of the users registered to study in 2013-2014 still had course learning behaviours in 2017-2018. In other words, MOOC users are dropping out. The number of new learners in the two school years of 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 also decreased. At the same time, the problem of low completion rate of MOOCs courses remains unsolved. Furthermore, it is difficult to realise the MOOCs’ original objective of promoting equal access to education and enabling people in less-developed areas to access world-class higher education. Currently, the vast majority of MOOC learners is from rich countries and regions, and most are already in official employment (Reich & Ruiperez-Valiente, 2019).
Another key to the sustainable development of MOOCs lies in its business model. Over the last few years, Coursera, edX, and FutureLearn have continually adjusted their pricing strategies, expanded their products and business lines, and developing value-added services to achieve commercial profit. However, they still struggle with the issue of how to encourage users pay and maintain such courses and users on such a large scale. Udacity, one of the earliest MOOCs, sought sustainability in 2019 by raising service prices and cutting operation costs. Its specific measures were as follows: 1) It cut the number of employees from 500 to 300; 2) It closed several international offices, including Brazil; 3) It pulled the Udacity app; 4) It focused on its core business, accelerated the development on nano degrees, and also closed some nano degrees; 5) It changed the payment model for nano degrees.
In May 2019, nano degrees were paid by month with a monthly fee standard of USD 399, which doubled the price of early nano degrees. In October 2019, a simple adjustment was made to the payment model. At present, there are options for both pre-payment for the entire project in lump sum and payment by month. Pre-payment in lump sum enjoys a partial discount based on the price of USD 399 per month multiplied by the project duration, but the total price is still much higher than the previous nano degree price (Mendez, 2019). Both Coursera and FutureLearn also adjusted their payment models, both choosing an annual subscription model. Users get access to courses for the entire year (excluding microcredentials and degree programmes) once they have made a lump-sum payment. FutureLearn’s yearly subscription is called FutureLearn Unlimited with a fixed price of USD 249; Coursera’s yearly subscription is called Coursera Plus with a fixed price of USD 399-499. However, how many people are ready to pay for MOOCs? Will payment programmes lead to the withdrawal of a large number of learners from the platforms? All major platforms seem to be seeking a balance between free open learning and commercial profit. If this problem cannot be solved, it will be a challenge for platforms like Coursera and Udacity to maintain sustainable development.
Overall, the major platforms have been constantly exploring business models and optimising their course learning experiences. Some excellent results have been achieved in areas such as Coursera for Business over the last few years. The completion rates for some MOOC programmes such as paid microcredentials have also greatly improved. However, MOOCs still face practical problems and challenges in terms of sustainable operation. In order to address these problems and challenges, it is also necessary for platforms, universities, and the public to seriously consider the ultimate values of MOOCs, their core advantages, and what problems can be solved using MOOCs.
V. Discussions and Conclusions
Overall, 2019 was a relatively stable year in terms of MOOC development. All major MOOC platforms have made steady progress in course services and platform design. The attribute of MOOCs in serving lifelong learning has been further strengthened, and blended teaching based on MOOC resources has been put into practice in university classes by way of finalised products. At the same time, the sustainability of MOOCs is still attracting attention from major platforms and other stakeholders.
The construction of MOOCs in China has demonstrated a high degree of integration with higher education since the beginning and has been promoted and supported by policies at the national level. This has enabled MOOCs in China to establish “China speed,” “China scale,” and “China branding,” which has played an innovative and demonstrative role in global MOOC development. Compared with Coursera, edx, FutureLearn, and other major international platforms, the next stage of MOOC construction in China can focus on exploration in the following aspects. The first is to intensify the modular integration of courses, and to strengthen input of microcredentials and online degrees. Over the last few years, domestic platforms and universities have focused on the development of single independent courses, and have paid less attention to microcredentials and online degrees than Coursera and other international platform. In order to further improve the systematic and in-depth nature of MOOC learning and enrich the choices available to different learners, microcredentials and online degrees should become a new focus of domestic MOOC platforms in resource and product development. The second is to explore an enterprise training model based on MOOC resources. In addition to individual users, MOOC resources can also be widely used for staff training in enterprises and organisations. Coursera and other international platforms have developed corresponding B2B businesses and have made outstanding achievements. This is what MOOC platforms in China can learn from in terms of acquiring more market shares and seeking new profit areas. The third is to accelerate blended teaching reform based on MOOC resources, to give college teachers proper guidance in “using MOOCs” rather than “building MOOCs,” to avoid resource wastage in redundant course building, and to improve the utilisation rate of high quality MOOC resources. It is also necessary for MOOC platforms to offers support for resources, technology, tools, and even methodologies and to promote the practice and innovation of MOOCs in classes. The fourth is to plan an MOOC-based lifelong learning system, to give full play of MOOCs’ open and resource advantages, to coordinate all major platforms with the credit bank, to achieve the credit acquirement, certification, and transfer of MOOC learning under the prerequisite of quality assurance, to build a bridge between MOOC learning and vocational certification, qualification framework, and even formal degree education, and to promote the construction of a system serving lifelong learning for all and the construction of a learning society.
The 2019 China MOOC Conference was convened to summarise the experiences and achievements of MOOC construction in China. At the same time, it also proposes standards and a vision for the future construction of MOOCs. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to reexamine the value of online education and MOOCs. Against the call for “suspending classes but not teaching or learning,” almost all universities and primary and middle schools nationwide began to use an online model for normal teaching, and teaching based on MOOCs platforms and resources became the main choice for a large number of university teachers. This is the largest and most unprecedented social experiment in online teaching, and many teachers have come into contact with and practiced online teaching models that are completely different from face-to-face tutorials. They have experienced rapid changes in their teaching ability, confidence, and interest in technology. A large amount of learning data has been accumulated through long-term online teaching and caused a series of education and teaching problems worth of studying. In the future, MOOCs will enter a peak period built on the process of developed from technological maturity to steady rise.
About the Author
Dr. Wang Yu is a lecturer of the Faculty of Education of the Open University of China. His main research areas include online instruction, e-learning and instructional design.
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The predecessor of the Open University of China (OUC) was China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU), which was founded with the advocacy of Comrade Deng Xiaoping in 1979.
Publication Information: Jing Degang. 2020. New Mission for Open Universities Based on a Vision of Lifelong Education. Distance Education in China (3): 1-4.
Abstract: Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic, online education has been brought into sharp focus. What historical mission should open universities that use online education take on? This essay is a brief review of the operational history and experiences of open universities from the perspectives of history and reality.
Community education is giving more meaning to our children’s summer vacations. Rural libraries are becoming a source of spiritual nourishment for farmers. Online courses are stimulating people's interest in learning.
In order to stimulate students' enthusiasm for learning, create a sound learning atmosphere, form good personal learning habits, demonstrate online and offline learning, trace periodic achievements, and set up both a typical and exemplary model, the Open University of China’s (OUC) Beijing Experimental School held an activity series entitled, "2015 Show My Works". The topic of this activity is "Post My Homework," showcasing students’ excellent homework.
Learner support is a key factor in ensuring students complete their studies smoothly, and also directly affects the teaching quality of distance education colleges/universities, as well as student satisfaction.
As the primary mechanisms used in distance education are shifting from traditional radio and TV to the Internet; the Internet age is imposing new, higher requirements on the Open University of China (OUC). Therefore, we must be well prepared to deal with the situation.
December 12-13, 2014 saw the convening of the 2014 OUC System Scientific Research Work Conference in Huizhou, Guangdong. The theme was Educational Change in the Internet Age. Nearly 100 representatives from the Open University of China (OUC) and its 42 branches gathered for meetings and discussions on advancing online scientific research and its management.