Follow up on National MOOC Symposium

A recent report shows that the number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) being offered by institutions, and the intention to develop more, is continuing to increase throughout Europe (Jansen & Schuwer, 2015). And last week around 350 delegates from around the world participated in the third European MOOC Summit in Mons, Belgium.


On Thursday and Friday, and continuing over the weekend, the Higher Education, Research, and Culture in European Society (HERCULES) expert group of the Academia Europaea (AE) hosted a special Symposium in Stockholm at the Wenner-Gren Centre exploring new and emerging models of teaching and learning. A major focus of this event was on MOOCs. The Symposium attracted many of the leading researchers and thought leaders in the area in Europe and the United States, along with representatiives from countries as far as China and Japan.

While the future of the MOOC is uncertain, we should not underestimate both the local and global impact that the Internet, and online learning more specifcially, is having on the Higher Education sector. As Amara’s Law reminds us, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

The level of interest that MOOCs have attracted from media, politicians and senior academic leaders throughout the world is unprecedented in recent times. Arguably, no other educational innovation in the past century has received the same level of media attention and ground swell of interest from millions of people expressing their willingness to explore, discover and learn through new technology. Of course, the hype of the MOOC movement must be unpacked from the hope.

Therefore, at the beginning of May, the National MOOC Symposium was an effort by the NIDL to facilitate more critical discussion about some of the claims, counter-claims and unresolved debates surrounding the rapid growth of MOOCs, with a particular focus on the Irish context. It is important to acknowledge the Symposium was supported with funding from two European projects which are designed to mature our understanding of the potential of new models of open and online education.

Many of the presentations (slides and videos) from the National MOOC Symposium are now available on the NIDL website. Highlights include the two keynote speakers, Professor Mike Sharples and Dr Darco Jensen, who provide contrasting perspectives on major MOOC initiatives underway in the UK, US and Europe. Mike provides the Academic Lead of FutureLearn and Darco is the lead researcher in several European funded Open Education initiatives.

Other speakers over the course of the day provided examples of local initiatives, such as presentations from IT Silgo and Trinity College Dublin (TCD). An analysis of the competing and co-existing institutional drivers behind MOOCs may be of wider interest along with a study we have underway in the NIDL of how MOOCs have been presented in the Irish Media. We look forward to hosting similar events and symposia in the future in areas of particular interest.

Modernisation of European Universities

Last week, at the EADTU-EU Summit 2015: Innovating Higher Education by New Modes of Teaching and Learning, Professor Mark Brown gave an invited presentation on the EMPOWER Project and then participated in a high-level panel discussion on the modernisation of European universities. Notably, Xavier Prats-Monne, Director-General of Education and Culture, was also a member of the panel where he shared his views on the future of higher education. Seamus Fox, Head of Open Education, also participated in the Summit.


The day beforehand Mark also attended a special forum in Brussels hosted by the European Commission to review a draft report on the Changing Pedagogical Landscape for European Higher Education. This is a major European funded project which has the objective of examining to what extent government strategies and higher education regulatory and accreditation, funding, quality assurance, assessment and certification frameworks support or hinder new modes of learning and, in particular, the increased use of technology in the teaching and learning process. The final report should be available in the next few months. 

European Projects in Open Education

The NIDL is currently playing a lead role in three European funded projects which focus on leadership and maturing our institutional understanding of the potential benefits of Open Education. The HOME Project aims to strengthen an open network for cooperation on open education in general and MOOCs in particular. HOME stands for ‘Higher Education Online: MOOCs the European’ way. The Project is anchored in the philosophy of Open Education and amongst other things seeks to explore the potential of MOOCs when based on values like openness, equity, quality and diversity. The Porto Declaration on European MOOCs reflects this philosophy and was an outcome of a high-level meeting of institutional partners after an Open Education conference late last year.


The SCORE2020 Project focuses on building regional and institutional capacity, and maturing the level of knowledge in the area of Open Education, including the use of MOOCs. The Project supports the European funded OpenupEd MOOCs platform as a means of opening up higher education following principles of cultural and linguistic diversity. The NIDL is leading two of the major work packages and will host a National MOOC Symposium in April or May with support from SCORE2020. Also two journal articles have recently been submitted to a special European issue of the International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning on MOOC initiatives as part of this project.

SCORE2020The third European funded project is known as EMPOWER and in December last year around 40 institutional leaders met in Brussels to start this initiative. At the core of EMPOWER is the modernisation agenda for European universities as the project supports policy reform with regard adopting new flexible modes of teaching and learning for both campus-based and off-campus learners. A number of expert communities of practice will be supported by EMPOWER and the NIDL is playing a lead role in the specialist area of policy development. The Project has funding for three years and benefits from the administrative support of the European Association for Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU).