'Double-Dipping' With MOOCs

Colleges that jumped on the MOOC bandwagon early on are looking to expand their efforts. Why are many of the ones that started with Coursera turning to edX?

October 13, 2015
 
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As massive open online course providers specialize in disciplines and delivery modes, universities are looking for new opportunities to experiment. The trend appears to be benefiting edX.

Many colleges have “double-dipped” by joining both Coursera and edX, two major MOOC providers, since MOOCs went mainstream in 2012. For example, the California Institute of Technology, Rice University and the University of Toronto all partnered with Coursera in July 2012 and then joined edX in 2013. Similarly, Peking University in Beijing first partnered with edX in May 2013, then with Coursera three months later.

But among colleges and universities in the U.S., movement from one MOOC platform to the next is a one-way street. According to an Inside Higher Ed analysis, at least 10 of the institutions that first partnered with Coursera have since joined edX. Not a single edX institution has gone the other way.

After adding the University of Michigan to its list of charter members last week, edX has now recruited all of Coursera’s earliest partners, including the University of Pennsylvania, which joined in June, and Princeton University, in September. Even Stanford University, where Coursera co-founders Daphne Koller and Andrew Ng are faculty members, has since 2013 been a major contributor to Open edX, the MOOC provider’s open-source platform.

Joining a MOOC platform means doing more than filling out a sign-up sheet. Some universities have invested millions in order to become members, while individual MOOCs can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop.

Coursera declined to comment for this article.

Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX, in an interview declined to speculate about why some of Coursera’s partners are joining his platform as well. “We are just delighted that many of these pioneers of online education and MOOCs are partnering with us,” he said.

There are many reasons behind the shift, the simplest being that Coursera added most of its U.S. university partners during aggressive recruitment periods in 2012 and 2013, while edX has steadily added handfuls of institutions since its May 2012 launch.

The MOOC platforms have also changed since then. Coursera has found a promising business model in Specializations, sequences of career-focused courses. EdX, in addition to its code serving as the foundation for other platforms, is experimenting with online learning as a part of face-to-face education. Both have extensive international initiatives underway.

In a statement, Harvard University Provost Alan M. Garber listed several more reasons why he believes universities are joining edX, including its open-source platform, nonprofit status and the data collected about learners (Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology co-founded edX).

“Every new partner presents an added opportunity for dialogue, collaboration and innovation in an area that we all care about deeply,” Garber wrote. “These values reflect our mission at Harvard, and, we believe, the missions of many other institutions: to create and disseminate knowledge and to educate talented students from around the world. In short, they resonate.”

In interviews with Inside Higher Ed, faculty members and administrators at some of the universities that have recently joined edX described a more pragmatic approach.

“Like other universities and the partner organizations like edX and Coursera themselves, we are experimenting with the rapidly changing online learning space,” Stanton E. F. Wortham, associate dean for academic affairs at the Penn Graduate School of Education, said in an email. “At this point it’s natural that we would partner with other providers.”

Penn has offered more than 50 MOOCs on Coursera and will continue to create new ones, Wortham said. On Coursera, the university can experiment with Specializations such as its Business Foundations sequence, while edX offers an opportunity to test different course formats, he said.

“The different platforms have different affordances, and so it makes sense to have relationships with both,” Wortham wrote. “They also reach different types of student populations, and we’d like to distribute our content as widely as possible.”

EdX regularly promotes its nonprofit status to set itself apart, but Ivo D. Dinov, associate professor and chair of the faculty information technology committee at Michigan, said he wasn’t “bothered” by the fact that Coursera is backed by venture capital.

“There are pros/cons to all platforms, as well as a bunch of commonalities,” Dinov said in an email. “This will be a very dynamic field in the next several years. Things will change, features will develop, mature and disappear. User feedback, IT advances, policies, practices and instructional challenges will drive innovations in all platforms.”

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