Education & Family

London University online course gains 200,000 students

Futurelearrn Mooc
Image caption Futurelearn is launching more courses including Birmingham University's on Hamlet

More than 200,000 students signed up for the first wave of online courses offered by the University of London's International Programmes.

The university has published details of the take-up of four online courses - so-called Moocs - in their first year.

This also showed the high dropout rate with only about 9,000 students completing a course.

Mike Kerrison, director of academic development, said the the experiment so far had been "very successful".

Early adopters

The University of London's International Programmes specialises in providing degrees by distance learning and has been providing such courses since the 19th Century.

Last year it became one of the UK's early adopters of so-called Moocs - massive open online courses - which deliver university courses through the internet.

It offered free courses through the US-based Coursera network, which now has more than five million registrations.

This snapshot from the University of London's International Programmes at the end of the first year shows the scale of interest in such online courses, with 210,000 students signing up.

Reflecting the demand for higher education, this is about four times the total number of conventional students studying with the University of London's International Programmes.

Among those people who signed up, 90,000 were categorised as "active students" who participated in one of the four pilot courses, which were about computer programming, law, malicious software and the use of photography.

The university says there was a strong sense of value from students, with 91% rating their experience as good, very good or excellent.

These online courses, with no formal entry requirements, have a high dropout rate, and in this case there were 8,843 students who received a "Statement of Accomplishment" for successful completion, fewer than one in 20 of those who initially signed up.

"Considering that the courses are free and allow students to do as much or as little work as they like, the number of students engaging in the course materials is considerable," said Mr Kerrison.

International networks

There has been particular interest in online universities in the US, where prestigious institutions such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford have been at the forefront of creating online platforms such as Coursera and edX.

These have also spread into international networks with major recent partnerships in China and France.

The online model has also begun to be refined, with Harvard developing courses for a much smaller, pre-selected group of online students, with the aim of much higher completion rates. These have been dubbed Spocs, small private online courses.

This autumn also saw the launch of a UK online university partnership, Futurelearn, which has announced new courses starting in January, bringing to 29 the total number of courses available.

This includes Shakespeare's Hamlet: text, performance and culture, from the University of Birmingham and Exploring our oceans, from the University of Southampton.

So far Futurelearn has attracted students from 190 countries with five of the pilot courses already reaching their planned quotas.

Chief executive Simon Nelson said the response in this first term had "exceeded all our expectations".

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