The Aussie Coursera? A new homegrown MOOC platform arrives

March 22nd, 2013 Bella Counihan
A new set of free online courses will soon be available Online learning image from. Credit: www.shutterstock.com
The first Australian free online education platform has been launched in Canberra today, by tertiary education minister Chris Bowen.

Open Universities Australia, a private distance and online education organisation, has stepped into the world of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with a new online platform called Open2Study.

Mr Bowen, who signed up for a course on anthropology at the launch, said "we don't yet know what the full impact online forces will have on the delivery of higher education. But we know it's going to have a big impact… and we know that any university or any institution that doesn't respond and offer flexible programs is going to fall behind."

Paul Wappett, Open Universities Australia CEO, said students wouldn't "pay a cent" for courses with no hidden costs for textbooks, student admin or exams. "We're focused on delivering outstanding quality, but without the price tag", he said.

But, he maintained, these courses would not be a replacement for tertiary studies. The courses were designed "unashamedly to let the student taste what is available, getting them familiar with higher learning, so they can build the confidence to go onto further study."

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Students can look at sample videos for each course before enrolling. Credit: Open2Study

Mr Wappett said the platform was an experiment of sorts and that Open Universities Australia "would be learning alongside the student about what works". He also said he would be open to providing accreditation or course certificates once the platform was more established.

Open2Study courses will be available entirely online with short video lectures, quizzes, student discussion forums and the ability to earn "badges" for learning and helping other students.

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The courses will be taught by academics and industry professionals from a range of institutions, including Macquarie University, RMIT University and the Central Institute of Technology.

The platform will initially only offer 10 courses including nursing, anthropology, financial planning and management to begin on 22 April this year. Each of these will run for four weeks but once up and running, up to 50 courses will be available with 10 intakes per year.

Free online education has boomed since eminent universities like Princeton and Stanford created their on MOOC startups, with American ventures Coursera and edX dominating so far.

Mr Wappett said the Australian response to these changes had been "slow compared to our counterparts in the United States." Australian universities had engaged in "a lot of gnashing of teeth but not a lot of action."

Roland Sussex, Research Fellow at the Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology said, "Open2Study had combined some of the valuable features of American providers like Coursera with a shorter study time per unit of 4 weeks, while keeping the cost-free feature intact."

"It's excellent to see a substantial Australian presence in what will soon be a very crowded and competitive field. But we won't know how right they have got the mix until we see some of their study units in action," he said.

According to Mr Sussex, Open2Study looked even more flexible than its US counterparts and said the emphasis on social collaborative learning was a plus.

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