iversity which had started as a “collaboration network for academia” back in 2008 soon pivoted to become one of the emerging European MOOCs. And though the German startup cannot compete with the massive funding rounds of US-based platforms like Coursera, Udacity or edX, iversity’s co-founder and CMO Hannes Klöpper sees some distinct differences that give European MOOCs advantages in their local markets.
As iversity is currently working on the launch of its 10 MOOC Fellowship courses, I wanted to catch up with Hannes and see where iversity is headed in the coming months.
How does the creation of the 10 MOOC Fellowship courses advance? Is there anything in particular you and the teams have already learned from the experience?
The ten courses are at different stages in their creation process. Some will launch earlier, in mid-October of this year, whereas others will launch in spring 2014. The fellows starting this autumn are pretty advanced in conceptionalising their MOOC and have already begun to produce the first units of video material.
We definitely learn a lot from their experiences, especially in terms of adapting the structure and methods of teaching to the format of a MOOC to fully exploit the format. It definitely has proven to be an asset that we communicate very closely with our fellows and make sure we stay on track.
What are iversity’s ambitions in terms of market coverage? Do you rather see yourself as a pan-European MOOC platform or are you planning to take on the world?
The sky is the limit. We certainly provide European-style higher education in that our course offerings reflect a great deal of diversity. Our courses differ in terms of disciplines, languages, but also in terms of the level of academic rigour and openness. That being said our market is global. We are looking forward to welcoming students from all continents this autumn.
Do you see significant similarities or differences between the different MOOC creators based on their national education systems or can MOOCs be easily internationalized?
We do see differences between the MOOC creators. But these are rather due to the variety of disciplinary backgrounds than education systems. In any case MOOCs require a different method and style of teaching than classroom instruction. This is a much bigger differentiator than the specific teaching culture that is characteristic of a certain education system.
With regard to the MOOC-students, certain aspects regarding their cultural diversity have to be taken into account when producing a MOOC. So for example the instructor shouldn’t use examples and analogies that are not universally known e.g. a cricket metaphor. But with a certain sensitivity to such issues, we believe that MOOCs can be produced in such a way that they speak to students Bangalore as well as in Berlin.
With Coursera adding another $43 million in funding, do you feel that Koller and Ng are shutting off the supply for the others, or is there still enough room to grow for iversity and other players in the space?
We don’t see Coursera, or any other MOOC platform, shutting off the supply for us. We believe that MOOCs for the time being will be a more local play. There are 4000 institutions of higher education in Europe. Coursera cannot possibly partner with all of them. There is, however, much less of a concentration of talent at a handful of institutions in Europe than there is in the US. Moreover in the US-context, where ever-rising tuition fees regularly make the headlines, MOOCs are seen as a solution to a cost-crisis in higher education. In Europe MOOCs will be more about improving quality. Technology solutions have to be adapted to their local context.
We don’t see this as a Facebook-market, where there are very strong network effects that result from the fact that “everyone” is using one platform. There will be horizontal – for example in terms of disciplines – as well as vertical – for example in terms of local markets and languages – differentiation. The MOOC-marketplace will reflect the diversity of higher education as a whole.
Which of the other platforms are you watching closely? Any personal favorites besides iversity?
Personally I would love to spend more time on dabbling with the existing MOOCs platforms, but I’m afraid that this will have to wait. Right now we are fully focussed on developing our own platform. I think Udacity has done a great job at producing a quality course experience and edX has build a good-looking and feature rich platform. Of course, we take a look at all of that and try to learn a lesson here and there.
One thing I can tell you already is that in terms of design the new iversity platform will be upping the ante.
What comes next for iversity? For example, Orange plans to set up a MOOC platform for North Africa, also an interesting market for you?
The big next step for us will be our go-live on 15 October. Expect to hear from us about a few additional MOOCs until then. In principle the MOOC market is a global market. Right now we are still in a phase of experimentation and I believe it is too early in the game to put on the blinders and focus on a narrowly defined niche-market.
But then again certain courses or platforms will surely be targeting local audiences For example, one of our MOOCs, International Agricultural Management, will be offered in German and Russian. I don’t think this is a winner-takes-all market like Facebook because of the strong B2B component on the supply side.