Preparing to launch

Academic Project Manager Barney Grainger talks to us about launching our courses on the online platform Coursera
image of gobal classroom
Coursera currently offers 300-plus courses in over 20 categories created by 62 universities
Coursera recently announced over 3 million registrations, which makes it by far the largest MOOC-based platform

In a world where course fees are continually rising, how come you can now study a university course for free?

The answer is that you can study via a MOOC, or "massive open online course”. MOOCs are short courses that are offered online for free, and typically involve watching short video lectures and completing assignments which are marked automatically or by other students. This means that many thousands of students can participate.

University of London International Programmes is working with a particular MOOC platform, Coursera, which is a US company founded by two computer science academics from Stanford. Coursera has partnered with 62 top-tier universities and now offers over 300 courses across a broad range of disciplines including medicine, literature, history and computer science, among others. Coursera recently announced over 3 million registrations, which makes it by far the largest MOOC-based platform.

Courses are typically 5-10 weeks long and can be studied at any time, whatever fits with the learner’s schedule.

Those studying Coursera courses are not students of the University of London but of Coursera.

The first University of London courses that are launching in June 2013 are:

So far just over 160,000 people have registered to take our short courses.

Barney Granger10 questions for Barney Grainger (pictured left), Academic Project Manager at the University of London International Programmes.

Why were these particular subjects selected for the first Coursera courses?
We wanted to give students a taste of some of the many subjects we offer via the University of London International Programmes, and also to demonstrate the work involved in studying online. As all Coursera courses are free to enrol this seemed like a perfect opportunity for anyone in the world to try out our short subject introductions and see if they are interested in our full courses. The courses offered also provide an opportunity for our alumni to find out about a new subject or learn skills relevant to their careers.

How will these courses help busy professionals, such as our alumni, with their continuing professional development?
Interestingly, early demographic analysis shows that a large number of Coursera students are graduates who are already in employment. This is likely because the courses are free, relatively short (typically 5-10 weeks long), provide good introductions to many useful subjects, and can be accessed at any time. Perfect for the busy professional!

How do you see people being able to fit in their Coursera study with their everyday life?
As students chose the time they access the course, it means they can select a part of the syllabus to go through, watch a video tutorial, take a quiz and discuss their thoughts with other students whenever it suits them. There are already over 3 million students from all over the world registered with Coursera so the format seems to work well for people in all walks of life.

"Each of the four short courses we offer via Coursera has equivalent full degrees from the University of London International Programmes."

What are the options once you complete your Coursera studies?
Each of the four short courses we offer via Coursera has equivalent full degrees from the University of London International Programmes. Or, alternatively, you could take individual modules from these degrees if you are not in a position to commit yourself to another full degree. Have a look at our BSc Creative Computing, BA History, LLB or MSc Information Security to see what options are available.

What do you think is particularly exciting about the way students will be studying on Coursera?
One of the main challenges of learning at a distance is connecting with students on your course, particularly if they do not live in the same country as you. With forum discussions, Google hangouts, social media groups and even local meet ups, students on Coursera are reaching out to one another and making connections with other students all over the world. This is a great development and will continue to enhance the value of learning this way.

Which course would you personally like to study and why?
Tough question as there are over 300 courses to choose from! I’m interested in strategy and innovation, so 'Learning Strategic Innovation in Organizations' looks like a good place to start. Although I could discover something else in the meantime (like 'Competitive Strategy') and sign up to that as well.

What advice would you give someone embarking on a Coursera course?
Try to make time to use all the resources available (like video lectures, quizzes, links and forums), follow the syllabus structure suggested by the instructor but don’t worry if things get in the way and you can’t complete all of the course. You’ll be able to sign up next time and there is nothing to lose in terms of marks or credits, so look at it as learning for learning’s sake and just have fun.

What are the particular strengths of the Coursera study platform?
The Course Operations team behind Coursera are incredibly committed to offering the best learning platform and study experience they can, which is really encouraging to see as both a partner university and as a Coursera student myself.

"We’re already thinking of ways in which the platform can support our current students."

What are the University’s future plans in relation to Coursera? How will the University of London decide which new courses to develop for the future?
We’re already thinking of ways in which the platform can support our current students, talking to other universities around the world about their experiences and ideas and aiming to make sure we stay ahead of the curve, so watch this space!    

You recently attended a Coursera Conference in Philadelphia, USA. What new thing did you find out about Coursera that particularly inspired you?
It’s still very early days to understand what Coursera and MOOCs in general mean for the world of higher education, nevertheless the conference really showed the appetite of those involved to try something new. It was also great to be there as a representative of a flexible learning institution that has been around for over 150 years, as all of the interest generated by this mode of learning will only legitimise further the hard work and effort of our students.  

For more information please visit: