Global Collaborative Online Learning: Nucleus for the Future of Higher Ed and Lifelong Learning

This is an essay I’ve posted as part of a discussion on „Spatial-organizational strategies for serving the world’s (urban) majority“ in Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy‘ I’ve included the replies as well. The Coursera course was a joint development of the University of Wisconsin Madison and the University of Bristol and all resources are available as an archive.

Online Learning CloudIn order to serve the world’s population better as a destination for high-quality education most higher ed institutions and organisations have to be getting serious about online learning. We need to reach learners wherever they are – independent of their physical location. And we’re not talking about eLearning – we’re talking about social, intercultural and highly individual learning experiences that in some cases lead to a Master’s Degree, in others to mastering a new skill or to acquire a specific qualification.

Here are some reasons for getting serious about online learning:

  • A next-generation kind of online learning which takes advantage of the technological developments of the recent past offers valuable opportunities to learners worldwide
  • intercultural social collaboration without having to travel around the globe
  • flexible schedules to serve lifelong learners, supporting work-life-balance
  • offering high-level educational resources to the economically, physically or politically challenged
  • the Generation Y (Millenials – born after 1981) is expecting all of the above

I’ll discuss four different aspects/areas:

  1. Massive Collaborative Open Online Learning
  2. Corporate Online Universities
  3. Serving Lifelong learners – the rise of the part-time MBA
  4. MOOCs and networked campuses for resource-constrained or rural universities

1) Massive Collaborative Open Online Learning

Coursera with over 100 universities from all over the world, Udemy with 16.000+ online courses, Udacity,, Khan Academy, OpenUniversity, Futurelearn and edXthey all show the way in that they go out to the learners, wherever they are instead of requiring them to come to a physical place.

This is not only a US or UK phenomenon; in Germany – where I live – offers flat-rates for medicinal or law students bundling several courses that lead to degrees and/or credit points at accredited universities and colleges., based in Berlin, started offering high-level MOOCs with international educators and 10.000 students enrolling in courses that don’t even offer credits. Spain is in the lead of MOOC providers in Europe (although I don’t know why – do you?). There is a growing number and a need for next generation MOOCs.

By next generation MOOC I refer to the next generation of online learning, incorporating the impact power of xMOOCs with the connectivist and constructivist didactical design of cMOOCs with recent research in neurosciences on learning processes – combining it with all the empirical experiences we and other early adopters have had with this kind of learning.

Other European examples:

France: FUN, MOOC platform by french Ministère de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche.

Italy: Uninettuno OpenupEd

More information about European Online Learning platforms: Open Education Europa


2) Corporate Campus: Online Universities for employees

Additionally, there’s a trend towards high-quality educational programs enforced and facilitated by corporations using the MOOC approach

  • to attract future high potentials as a skilled workforce for the ever-changing dynamic markets ahead
  • to nurture their future workforce and stifle innovation / innovative thinking by offering far more dynamic and praxis-relevant content to learners than the slow-moving HEIs Examples:
  • Udemy already offers with UFO a „corporate university in a box“: a white label platform for companies where they can build their own online academies with or without filled catalogues of online courses
  • Coursera and Udacity offer subscription-based plans for companies of all sizes to facilitate their in-house L & D needs
  • adidas has built a 21st-century online campus with MOOCs (Adidas Group Learning Campus) and Deutsche Telekom is trying to find answers with their initiative


3) Serving Lifelong Learners – rise of the part-time MBA

There’s another development that has to do with the changing demographics and faster changing (digital and global) world and markets: the lifelong learners need to be served and individuals, as well as corporations worldwide, begin to see innovative online courses with a connected design as a solution to their learning needs in different phases of their (work-) life.

The list of part-time Master programmes for full-time working executives is growing every day (here’s a US ranking of part-time MBA’s) and more people are interested in specialized and individualized master programmes

Older students prefer taking online classes from home and need more flexible schedules to cater to family needs.


4) MOOCs and networked campuses for resource-constrained or „far from hot-spots“ universities:

  • Advanced integrated second generation MOOCs will be one solution for resource constrained universities to attract and serve students globally without having to provide expensive campuses in urban areas
  • Low-cost satellite campuses (see a great post on this subject by Donnalee Donaldson) in different hubs/hot spots of the world like New York, London, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Barcelona or San Francisco could extend their reach even more if they offered complete Bachelor/Master degree courses online with short sessions in these physical campuses for live collaboration experiences, activities and exams in person (Blended Learning)
  • once they moved serious parts of their formal educational program online they can expand their reach even further by building a networked campus with other smaller HEIs in order to share resources and students. An example for this is the network of small universities „L’université Lorraine“ in Lorraine, France: See the post of Jonathan Pierrell

To incorporate and offer collaborative, networked online learning experiences with a diverse intercultural structure is the future – for universities as well as for corporations. To not only serve an urban majority of the population but also the people who otherwise have no access to high-level education or intercultural exchange for geographic, economic or political reasons.

Discussion (anonymized)


Nice post. Thanks for sharing the map indicating the number of MOOCS by countries in Europe. Quite interesting. (FYI, in France, the French National Education has started its own MOOC platform: FUN – I thinkn the potential for changes in higher education is even more significant when universities are almost completely publicly founded…)

Yes online learning is a way of the future. Nevertheless, I do have questions. I am certainly enjoying this course, much more than I thought I would.

Firstly, all the material caters for the typical  English speaker, I have no problem navigating my way around the site – it’s great! However, what if  I didn’t understand or indeed fully understand English? How could I access this information, how could I navigate my way around this site? The language of the internet is English and it is people with this knowledge who benefit most.
Also, online learning is great for people who have good bandwidth. Good bandwidth in many parts of the world costs money. If I can’t afford good bandwidth I am excluded from or it will be difficult for me to access online education.
Oh yes, I have my own laptop so I can interact with this material any time, any place. This laptop was not cheap and if I couldn’t afford this laptop then again my access would be restricted.
Yes, the way we are learning is changing and it is really exciting but at the end of the day it seems that it is still the same people who are denied access. Collaborative approaches as you mention are crucial, but I believe that collaborative approaches with a conscience are the future.

Hi BJ,
The map with the number of MOOCs in Europe does indicate that MOOCs do not only exist in English! If you didn’t speak English, you wouldn’t have joined this course and would have started some (maybe on a similar or other topic) in a language that you would understand. For sure, it’s less likely to have a MOOC in a regional language or a minority language, but there is linguistic variety out there. I would say, don’t think that all the info on the net is in English … (Maybe you have missed out a lot :p)As for the cost and accessibility, yes, bandwidth and other equipment is required, but what is more expensive: a laptop (with or without internet, since there are wifi hotspots in more and more places), or tuition fees? I believe that there are very few people who cannot afford a laptop and still end up in any HEI..

Hi BJ, you make some very good points there and to answer your questions I’ve collected a few links for you:
1) Language variety
MOOCs are starting out worldwide and English is the most comon language as of yet but already you’ll find offers in many different languages as well:

  1. (German MOOC provider, open education, you only pay for certificates): they just startet out last year and offer approx. 60% in German (rest in English) while the profs are from various countries. I’m currently studying a course on Gamification which is held by spanish lecturers in English, the students are diverse
  2. offers many different languages, take a look at their current course catalogue (i.e. 48 Chinese, 22 French, 17 Spanish, 4 Ukrainian…):

Coursera course catalogue as of April 13, 2014

2) Bandwith/Internet access for all

  • Project Loon by Google – Internet access for everyone in rural areas or after political/natural disasters
  • Facebook’s project „SocialEdu“ at (info available in different languages)
    Last month announced partnerships with Rwandan government, Nokia, edX and Airtel for a a pilot project called SocialEDU, which will help provide students in Rwanda with free access to a collaborative online education experience.

I’m aware that this is only a humble start and I’m sure there are many similar projects out there I don’t know of (especially in languages I don’t understand and therefore couldn’t even google…) – but we are pioneers in this area and part of a spearhead eventually followed by unstoppable legions of the masses 🙂

I would like to see credentialing by online moocs on par with brick-and-mortar institutions, without an extravagant increase in price to the learner, which would defeat the purpose of making learning more accessible to more of the world’s population.



MOOCs’ disruption is only beginning says Harvard prof in The Boston Globe

See on Scoop.iteLearning News

Gaby K. Slezák’s insight:

An informed and inside look on the ongoing disruption of higher education. Facts about much needed innovation and discussion about the future of higher ed, (un-) employability after college, the beginning pressure on overprized education in the US that’s been generated through MOOCs, false basic assumptions about technology and social learning  and optimization of the process for faculty and students for the 21st century.

See on

Europäische MOOCs wachsen weiter – Forschungsergebnisse von Open Education Europa

Wenn deutsche Medien gerne technologiegetriebene Trends als Hype abstempeln und dann das Interesse verlieren, verpassen sie manchmal das Beste: die wachsende Verbreitung von Massive Open Online Courses, kurz MOOCs. International passiert eine ganze Menge:

  • Der ‚Hype‘ reformiert in den USA gerade das gesamte Bildungssystem und sorgt immer noch regelmäßig für Teilnehmerzahlen von Zigtausenden (HarvardX: 70.000 in einem einzigen Kurs – ich bin eine davon). Selbst bei Abschlussquoten von durchschnittlich 15% machen bei so einem Kurs mehr Studenten eine Prüfung als ein Professor in seinem ganzen Leben am traditionellen Campus abnehmen kann (Und besser sind die Absolventen übrigens auch.)
  • Die weltweite Higher Education Szene diskutiert Globalisierungsstrategien für Universität und Forschung für die Knowledge-Economy – in einem multinational gut durchmischten Onlinekurs auf Coursera
  • Das europäische Angebot von offenen Onlinekursen wird immer größer und es kommen (auch weltweit) immer mehr Sprachen neben englisch hinzu: Die Europäische Kommission hat bereits 2013 eine gesamteuropäische MOOC-Initiative namens OpenupEd gestartet und fördert aktuell im Rahmen des Startup Europe Programms das „MOOCs for Web Talent Network“
european Moocs

MOOCs in Europa

Verteilung kostenlos und frei zugänglicher MOOCs in Europa nach Ländern. Spanien bleibt Vorreiter. Quelle: Open Education

Gute und schlechte MOOCs
Ich selbst evaluiere für einen Kunden seit Anfang des Jahres die bekanntesten MOOC-Anbieter weltweit und kann schon eins sagen: die Qualität und Professionalität wird von den USA vorgegeben, doch z.B. die deutsche Plattform iversity muss sich nicht hinter MOOC-Pionieren Udacity, edX oder Coursera verstecken. Obwohl das Kursangebot des jungen Berliner Unternehmens (die sitzen bei mir um die Ecke in Bernau) noch übersichtlich ist, bietet die kostenlose Lernplattform eine Menge intuitiver Features und bei einigen englischsprachigen Kursen auch anregende Diskussionen und hohe Beteiligung der Dozenten trotz hoher Teilnehmerzahlen: In einem Kurs sind es aktuell mehr als 15.000 (bei „Gamification“ vom mitreißend sympathischen spanischen Prof. Victor Manrique). Auch das Hasso-Plattner-Institut, Potsdam, bietet bereits seit 2012 englischsprachige MOOCs zu IT-Themen an und hat mit openHPi eine eigene Plattform dafür entwickelt.

Warum sich Hochschulen und Unternehmen weltweit mit dem Thema beschäftigen?
Die Verlagerung des Lernens auf hochgradig vernetzte Online-Plattformen, die motivierendes und kollaboratives Arbeiten unterstützen bietet ganz neue Möglichkeiten:

  • flexiblere berufsbegleitende Bildung und Weiterbildung
  • internationale Profilierung einer Hochschule, indem sie Angebote und Dozenten erlebbar und international verfügbar macht
  • Generation Y: die nach 1981 geborenen verlangen andere Arbeitsbedingungen und Weiterbildungsmöglichkeiten (Selbstbestimmtheit, Sharing, Collaboration, Mobilität) sowie Internationalisierung

Sobald ich mit meiner Recherche fertig bin stelle ich hier einen Vergleich zwischen den internationalen MOOC-Anbietern aus Sicht der Studenten und der Kursleiter/Kurserstellung vor. Dazu gehören die oben genannten sowie Uninettuno, Coursesites, Udemy, Futurelearn und – ein innovatives HarvardX Project.

Interessant ist die Verteilung der in aller Welt verstreuten Teilnehmer: Tatsächlich kommen in fast allen MOOCs, die ich bisher untersucht habe, die Lernenden relativ ähnlich verteilt aus den verschiedenen Regionen der Erde. Von Alaska bis Zaire war bisher alles dabei, mit jeweils überdurchschnittlich hohen Konzentrationen an der amerikanischen Ost- und Westküste, Australien, Benelux und Rwanda (!).

Hier die Verteilung der Teilnehmer des gut besuchten HarvardX-Kurses zum Thema Veränderungsprozesse (70.000 Teilnehmer, 4.840 haben sich hier eingetragen):

participants map

HarvardX map

Und hier die Stecknadeln der Teilnehmer des (englischsprachigen) „Gamification“-Kurses mit spanischem Kursleiter auf deutscher MOOC-Plattform:

participants map iversity gdmooc

iversity Map – Gamification

Weiterführende Informationen: