Leading Public Universities Differ on Best Online Partners

Concerned about rising operating costs and uneasy about keeping pace with innovations in online learning, thirteen leading public universities have already taken sides in the emerging battle over which Mass Open Online Course (MOOC) organization offers the best vision for the future.

The fact that online learning will grow as a component in university education is not in question.  That is why EDx, the consortium formed originally by Harvard and MIT to offer free online courses to thousands, and Coursera, a strong recent entrant to the field, are emerging as the go-to entities for both public and private institutions that want to prepare themselves for the next revolution in higher learning.

So far, the upstart Coursera has the lead in total partners, now up to 33 schools.  Edx now has 12 universities, but nine of those are from the University of Texas System, the most recent addition to the EDx consortium.  (See complete list of  schools affiliated with Coursera below.)

The original partners in EDx were Harvard and MIT, each of which contributed a whopping $30 million to the project, giving EDx a funding edge for the time being.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also a major supporter of Edx.  UC Berkeley later joined forces with Harvard and MIT, pledging support in the form of contributions from its outstanding faculty, and then UT Austin and the eight other UT campuses came on board.  UT will contribute another $5 million to EDx platform development, and UT will become a member of the EDx advisory board.  EDx is run by academics, and is a non-profit effort.

Stanford, Princeton, Michigan, and Penn were the first four to join the private Coursera venture, funding by an original $22 million from venture capitalists.  The brainchild of two Stanford professors, Coursera has received a combined $3.7 million in additional equity investment from Penn and Caltech.

According to some analysts, Coursera is perhaps more amenable to both intensive and modest efforts of its participants to develop for-credit online courses.  Schools that simply want something in place to assist them when the online “tsunami” hits can have a low-key Coursera ready in waiting and take a gradual or cautious approach as the case may be.  Some institutions with strong faculty opposition, for example, might prefer Coursera.  This does not mean, however, that Coursera cannot be used as a robust approach to digital learning.

Institutions that want more academic input and control when it comes to aligning digital learning with the best pedagogy might prefer Edx, which may be taking a more measured approach to developing platforms in line with individual campus and faculty expectations.  The UT System chose EDx in part because of the academic control and the fact that UT could have an advisory position.  UT Austin will offer some introductory courses for what are now large classes (more than 100 students) in the relatively near future.  Classes for college credit will not be free.

The University of Washington is currently the only university charging for classes offered through Coursera, because those classes are for credit.

Here are the public universities that have contracted with Coursera: Florida, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, UC Irvine, UCSF, Virginia, and Washington.

These are the private institutions that have joined Coursera:  Brown, Caltech, Columbia, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Penn, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Wesleyan