MOOCs, massive open online courses, are currently offered in a multitude of subjects and languages. They’re created by collaborations between universities, individual professors and instructors, and production platforms (like iversity, Coursera, edX, etc.). While most courses stem from US universities and platforms, forward-thinking members of Europe’s educational sphere are increasingly planning and producing MOOCs. The MOOC phenomenon exists in more of Europe than one may have thought.

Where were MOOCs first created?

It may come as a surprise that MOOCs did not originate in Europe or the USA, but were invented in Canada in 2008. The past five years have brought tremendous growth and institutionalization for MOOCs, which first spread to partner universities in Massachusetts and California, including MIT, Harvard, and Stanford. MOOCs then took root across the US and Europe, representing an important development since computer-assisted instruction originated in 1960. Today, there are MOOCs offered in many languages, including Russian, French, German, Italian, and Spanish, with most of these courses coming from European countries.

Where in Europe are MOOCs made?

Netherlands, Italy, Spain

Many major European countries have launched MOOCs, or are considering doing so. In the Benelux region, Netherlands’ Leiden University, Delft University, University of Amsterdam, and Open Universiteit have MOOCs in collaboration with Coursera, edX, OpenUpEd, and Sakai respectively. Italy has also launched MOOCs with OpenUpEd, and its Universita degli Studi di Napoli Federico II has its own MOOC platform. Other Italian universities have Coursera MOOCs, and one applied for the iversity MOOC Fellowship Competition. Its Bocconi University has a lab dedicated to MOOC research. Spain also houses the production platform Miriada X, launched January 2013.

The UK and Ireland

The United Kingdom also has a new MOOC platform, FutureLearn. Founded by The Open University in December 2012, it has partnered with 21 universities in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, including King’s College London and Trinity College Dublin, and prominent British cultural institutions. The University of London and the University of Edinburgh have Coursera MOOCs; the University of Edinburgh is the platform’s first non-US partner. UK Universities also have MOOCs in collaboration with BlackBoard CourseSites and other platforms, and interest in launching MOOCs has recently emerged in Wales.


In Germany, iversity was founded in 2008 as an academic collaboration platform and was incorporated in 2011. The company changed their focus to become a MOOC provider in 2012 and is the first MOOC platform to hold a European MOOC Fellowship Competition, a milestone in European MOOC involvement. iversity, headed by CEO Marcus Riecke and CMO Hannes Klöpper, will launch courses taught by specialists from German, Italian, and Spanish universities, including Professor Christian Spannagel from the University of Education Heidelberg. Jorn Loviscach is an e-learning pioneer in Germany with his YouTube series; he also served on iversity’s jury to determine its winners of the MOOC Fellowship Competition. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat München has a partnership with Coursera, and the University of Frankfurt is also involved in online learning initiatives. The Fernuniversität Hagen, Germany’s only university with a focus on distance learning, started experimenting with MOOCs in early 2013. Universities other than the FernUni Hagen also independently run their own MOOCs, such as the Virtual Linguistics Campus at the University of Marburg. Other platforms have also taken root in Germany, such as Open HPI, Open.SAP, and Open Course World.

Pan-European Initiatives, and Elsewhere in Europe

Interest in MOOCs and participation in their planning and design is spreading in Europe. The Bologna declaration, signed by European education ministers in 1999, was conceived to make national higher education systems compatible with one another and increase pan-European student mobility. The process also lead to more streamlined and assessment-heavy curricula, rendering MOOCs appealing opportunities for additional and interdisciplinary education for European students.

OpenUpEd, mentioned above, is a pan-European MOOC initiative. Launched in April 2013 and supported by the European Commission, it has 60 free web courses in 10 languages with universities in France, the UK, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Slovakia, and southern European countries including Portugal, Spain, and Italy. It also partners with universities outside of the European Union, including those in Russia, Turkey, and Israel, and plans to work with institutions in Cyprus, Scandinavia (Denmark specifically), Estonia, Greece, Poland, and Slovenia. There are other multinational initiatives to promote MOOCs in Europe forming, with collaboration between EuroTech universities.

There is MOOC participation elsewhere in the DACH-region, in Austria and Switzerland, notably with the Vienna University of Technology and ETH Zurich respectively. Universities and institutions in Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, Finland, France, and Belgium are also involved in MOOC production. Universities from these countries either applied to the iversity MOOC fellowship, have partnerships with large platforms like edX, Coursera, or Udacity, have their own MOOC platforms (like the University of Amsterdam), or work with other platforms like Moodle.

The Future

There are benefits for international platforms working with European universities. For example, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne of Switzerland has a course in French with Coursera, which widens Coursera’s market in the French-speaking world, attracting students in Europe, Africa, and Canada. There is the potential that European universities will partner with international platforms that aren’t based in America, like Australia’s Open2Study, launched March 2013, India’s EducateMe360, and Latin America’s unX.

There are many countries and universities in Europe involved in MOOC production, planning, and research, but most MOOCs come from American universities. There is less discourse in Europe about MOOCs, which are often the focus of op-eds and educational conferences in the US. While MOOCs are expanding in Europe, this educational change is concentrated in Western Europe, and many countries, such as Greece, the Ukraine (and most of Eastern Europe), and Balkan states are yet to make headlines in MOOC production. Interestingly, some prestigious European Universities, like Cambridge and Oxford have not yet partnered to make MOOCs. But the European University Association (EUA) has dedicated a taskforce to studying Euro-MOOCs and strategizing their impact on Europe, which will only grow in the coming years.

by Anna Meixler, Hans Stiegler and Holger Dewitz

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Edward Snowden and the Paradox of EU Foreign Policy

by Dr. Joris Larik (European University Institute)

Whistleblower Edward Snowden

Thanks to whistle-blower Edward Snowden, the spying activities of the United States against Europe are all over the news these days. While this affair casts a dark shadow over the transatlantic relationship, it also highlights the complexity of the European Union as an actor on the international stage.

If the recent reports of Der Spiegel on the EU being directly targeted by the NSA are confirmed, this serves as a wary acknowledgement of the importance of the bloc for the United States, above and beyond the individual Member States. Often denounced as a mere talking shop, the NSA was then certainly interested in listening in on what was being said at the EU representations in Washington, New York and even its core institutions in Brussels. These activities by the NSA also provoked a European response in the form of the outrage of Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament. Threats of walking away from the envisaged EU-US free trade agreement show that, even though the EU is not a military superpower, it has other means it could bring to bear internationally. Despite the outrage, the trade negotiations will probably proceed, according to the latest reports. Moreover, Snowden will not receive asylum in Europe, while voices have been raised asking about the extent to which Member State intelligence services had knowledge of the American surveillance activities and were potentially involved in them. 

All this does not bode well for a unified and assertive response of Europe in this case. This is largely due to the fact that European foreign policy is divided between the Union and the Member States and cast within a rather complex legal-institutional system. National security and intelligence remain firmly in the hands of the Member States, even after the Lisbon Treaty. While there are common European rules on asylum, the Union itself cannot grant this status, only the Member States. By contrast, in matters of trade, the EU has “exclusive competence”. That means, it is the Union alone which acts internationally, represented by the European Commission. However, the Member States retain a large degree of control internally on the launch and conduct of negotiations.

One of the things the Snowden affair has clearly brought to light is that the position of the EU in world politics is far from settled. Through our course on the EU in Global Governance, we want to contribute to a better understanding of the rules and interests which underlie its actions (and inaction!) on the global stage and to start a truly massive conversation about what this position could and should be.

EU researcher Joris Larik

Dr. Joris Larik is a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, as well as visiting lecturer at the Law Department of the University of Passau and the School of International Studies at the University of Dresden. He is coordinator of the “The European Union in Global Governance”-MOOC consortium.




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Stephen Colbert

Watch Stephen Colbert’s interview with Anant Agarwal, President of edX on last week’s episode of The Colbert Report. Colbert, America's most grandiose television host, comedian, and political satirist grills Agarwal on the merits of MOOCs, which Agarwal explains. The audience also seemed supportive of MOOCs, cheering loudly when, after Colbert asked, “what’s it [a MOOC] cost me?” Agarwal reveals “it’s free.”

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iversity welcomes diversity. Our MOOCs are as varied as our topics and lecturers. Most professors do not wear goth clothing and stovepipe hats, but as MOOC Fellowship winner, mathematician Prof. Spannagel proves, professors with piercings exist. At least in Germany.

At the MOOC Kick-Off Workshop, we saw that iversity courses welcome many schools of thought, appealing to different types of students. Though they focus on specific subjects, these courses integrate sources and exercises from different fields, rendering lessons interdisciplinary in nature. These unique MOOCs allow one to explore design, mineralogy, and math through diverse lenses, generating new ideas about and approaches to scholarship.

The courses also vary linguistically. Some of iversity’s MOOCs launching this fall will be available not only in English but also in Russian and Spanish. Courses will also be in German, the former lingua franca of science. German remains preferable for students in countries like Poland and Ukraine, and has recently grown popular for younger graduates in Spain, Italy, and Greece amongst others due to the financial crisis.

The following are three of iversity’s outstanding German language MOOCs, whose diverse natures appeal to people of many backgrounds and interests.

Fascination with Crystals and Symmetry

hoffman photo 1

Dr. Frank Hoffman combines ways of thinking in Faszination Kristalle und Symmetrie (Fascination with Crystals and Symmetry – this course will also be taught in English). He delves into crystallography and mineralogy, fields specific within chemistry—but his course is not narrow or only for the scientifically minded. Since Hoffman draws on philosophy, design, and morality, students confront ideas about beauty. Crystals are the avenue through which Hoffman teaches the structure and symmetry inherent in everyday life.

Mathematical Thinking

spannagel photo 1

iversity’s mathematics course is also unconventional. In Mathe-MOOC: Mathematisch denken (Math MOOC: Mathematical Thinking) participants study arithmetic or geometry, or both. Prof. Spannagel is a nonconventional teacher. He even features the muppet Count von Count from “Sesame Street” in humorous videos to show “how mathematicians think, so students can solve problems by themselves.” Spannagel employs the “calculations of daily life that make people wonder. This course teaches students to experiment with numbers, finding methods to prove theories. We will start with everyday situations to help students formalize their approaches to math. We will reach the formal mathematical practice, not begin with it,” he said.

Changemaker MOOC: Social Entrepreneurship

Prof. Christoph Corves teaches how to solve social problems by approaching injustice with businesslike strategy, affecting longlasting change. Applying business methods to social projects, students learn how these two disciplines intersect and how to excel in project management. The training this MOOC provides is adaptable to any student project – from environmental concerns to social injustice, from education to nutrition and health. Course participants from all over the world learn how to create sustainable organisations to address their communities’ needs, in areas that interest them most. The course takes a multifaceted approach to social justice that transcends NGO structure, and teaches students to properly manage, budget, and strategize to make meaningful social impacts.

An iversity education is diverse. Our MOOC courses span from minerals to design, from math to anatomy. Within each course there is greater variety. With interdisciplinary sourcing and unconventional teaching styles, professors foster creative thought and welcome all types of students to their classes.

by Anna Meixler

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With the Mathe-MOOC, you can see this in color

Photo via Wikicommons

Professor Christian Spannagel is looking for company for the Bayreuth Festival: You. The Mathe-MOOC team wants you to show them what you find fascinating, exciting or daunting about math, all in a short video. The producer of the most creative video will receive a ticket and accompany “Professor Dunkelmunkel” to a performance of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchmann in Bayreuth on the 24th of August 2013.

You can find more information about the competition on the Mathe-MOOC blog (German)

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