What If Free Online Courses Weren’t Inside 'Walled Gardens'?

EdSurge Podcast

What If Free Online Courses Weren’t Inside 'Walled Gardens'?

By Jeffrey R. Young     Nov 9, 2021

What If Free Online Courses Weren’t Inside 'Walled Gardens'?

This article is part of the guide: The EdSurge Podcast.

Large-scale online courses called MOOCs can get millions of registered users over time. But one online learning pioneer, Stephen Downes, says that these free resources are not living up to their full potential to help students and professors.

The problem, he argues, is that providers of MOOCs, including Coursera and edX, require registration to get to the materials. In other words, the only way to get to all the material inside is to enter this walled garden of the online course by registering.

You might be thinking: What’s the big deal? Lots of sites require you to log in to gain access to content, right?

Well, Downes says the problems with requiring registration, even when it’s free, are many—including that it makes it more difficult or even impossible for students to easily find potentially helpful lecture videos in internet searches or for other professors to assign pieces of the courses as resources in their own teaching.

Downes has a special relationship to MOOCs. It turns out he co-taught the very first one, back in 2008, with George Siemens, who is now the executive director of the Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge Research Lab at the University of Texas, Arlington. Their course inspired both the term “MOOCs” and a whole new industry.

On this week's EdSurge Podcast, we hear from both Siemens and Downes about their thoughts on what can still be learned from the earliest MOOCs experiments—and where they see open education going.

And it's an opportune time to rethink open courses. Earlier this year Harvard and MIT and the other creators of edX agreed to sell their nonprofit MOOC platform to a for-profit company, 2U. As a result, $800 million from the sale will go to forging a new nonprofit tasked with the mission of quote: “reimagining the future of learning for people at all stages of life, addressing educational inequalities, and continuing to advance next generation learning experiences and platforms.” And they’re currently having brainstorming meetings about what this super-well-funded nonprofit will do and what it will support.

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