Dr Emma Patterson, from the University of Bath: Take advantage of the new online education revolution

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Written by:   | Posted 28-November-2013 7:11

There is a revolution taking place in the higher education sector. Not only is the on-campus playing field changing with new tuition fee structures and increased international competition, the growth of the MOOC, or ‘Massive Open Online Course’, is changing the way people of all ages access academic knowledge.

The term MOOC was coined as recently as 2008, but open access learning had been available for some time before this. The difference that we’ve recently seen is an increase in the number of these courses available, something that can be partly attributed to better software, leading to more interactivity and greater opportunity to provide stimulating online learning.

The launch of the edX MOOC platform by MIT and Harvard universities in the United States in 2012 kick-started the idea of curating courses from different providers through a single, branded organisation. This autumn we’ve seen the launch of FutureLearn, the UK’s first curator of MOOCs.

FutureLearn has been underpinned by the Open University, who were providing distance learning long before the internet made it easy to reach audiences around the world. Over 20 UK universities are contributing MOOCs to the FutureLearn platform. The University of Bath is one of these contributors, and I will be leading the delivery of one of our first MOOCs.

What does this mean for businesses? The big difference for industry is that these free courses are opening up the doors of universities to students from all backgrounds, requiring very few qualifications, if any, to get involved, and allowing students to study flexibly. Obviously this makes certain courses absolutely ideal for the development of staff.

The MOOC I am designing is aimed specifically at professionals – especially those who want to better understand the drivers for and role of sustainable development within business, and to be harness with tools and techniques that will help them integrating a sustainable development strategy within their own company. Increasingly, companies are working with academic institutions to create courses like these which are valuable to their staff.

Whether you’re updating your employees’ skills in an area in which they’re already working, preparing them for new responsibilities or simply giving them opportunities to learn new skills, there are courses available through platforms like FutureLearn and edX and give access to the very latest thinking in almost every area you could want to study. MOOCs offer businesses an opportunity to enhance traditional training with specific programmes employees can take at their own pace.

Subjects as broad as ‘introduction to finance’, and my own course ‘make an impact: sustainability for professionals’ through to the in-depth detail of certain sectors, such as ‘asset pricing’ are all currently available for free online. There are also plenty of short courses aimed at developing specific personal skills, from people management and public speaking to basic accountancy and conflict resolution.

Universities are continually developing new and novel ways of delivering knowledge, making it engaging, relevant and valuable to learners. Here at the University of Bath we’ve come out top in the country for the satisfaction of our students, and I’m now looking to incorporate our world class teaching techniques into my MOOC.

Some businesses are already alert to the opportunities MOOCs offer, and some MOOC providers are seeing these opportunities as ways to develop their business models. Coursera, who offer around 500 courses to 17 million registered learners, recently launched a new professional development category for educators.

I encourage readers to consider how MOOCs might benefit their organisation, and to explore the wide range of courses available to them. Whatever size your company, the opportunities to ensure every member of the business has the chance to learn and develop are increasing.


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