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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Fellows at Work (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

iversity's MOOC Kick-Off Workshop in Berlin began last Thursday with a motivating speech from Dr. Volker Meyer-Guckel, Deputy Secretary General of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft. “Together, we are exploring new frontiers of higher education,” he said, welcoming the fellows who journeyed to Berlin from as far as Madrid and Southern Italy.

The workshop continued as fellows presented their course concepts. Their plans encompass a great breadth of academic topics, reflecting the fellows’ backgrounds as diverse as law and social sciences, finance, math and medicine. Our staff at iversity then helped fellows detail their plans, counseling them on an array of topics. We worked on MOOC basics and gave practical production advise, as well as tips for managing and maintaining student engagement and successfully marketing courses.

Panel Discussion at MOOC Production Fellowship

Award Ceremony (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

On Thursday evening, iversity and the Stifterverband welcomed distinguished guests from academia, business and politics for the award ceremony of the MOOC Production Fellowship. State Secretary Dr. Georg Schütte of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research began the evening by assessing the future of today’s universities. “Revolution or evolution?”, he argues, was the wrong question to pose about the transformation of higher education. Instead, he invited the audience to partake in this process by asking whether to “shape the transformation, or merely react to it.”

A panel discussion of “Higher Education in the Digital Age” followed, during which Dr. Thomas Kathöfer, Secretary General of the German Rector’s Conference, Dr. Jörg Dräger, Member of the Executive Board of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, and two of the fellows, Prof. Dr. Christoph Hermann with his MOOC "The European Union in Global Governance" and Prof. Dr. Christian Spannagel with his MOOC on Mathematical Thinking discussed the opportunities and drawbacks of MOOCs for universities. Their opinions were both optimistic about and sceptical of MOOC impacts, but the panel agreed that MOOCs are here to stay, and universities must integrate them into their academic programming.

MOOC Production Fellows (Photo: David Ausserhofer)

During the workshop’s second day, fellows worked together extensively. In small groups, they discussed course creation, challenges faced, student recruitment, class forums, and the visual aids their MOOCs will employ. They refined their courses and concretely strategized their marketing. Fellows were extensively coached by iversity staff, and experts such as Prof. Dr. Jörn Loviscach and Prof. Dr. Sandra Hofhues. As the fellows worked on their projects, they also “established community along with MOOC courses,” said iversity co-founder Hannes Klöpper. The workshop closed as fellows presented their updated course concepts.

Throughout the workshop, participants got to know one another as they networked, discussing their lives and academic pursuits. Over coffee, meals, and downtime in Pariser Platz, they shared stories and similarities. In just two days, iversity fellows invigorated and amplified their courses with new ideas from other fellows, with the strategic and didactic feedback needed from iversity experts and our partners. Fellows are now working to produce their MOOCs, and we look forward to supporting and guiding them throughout this next stage in producing their courses. Beginning this autumn, the first MOOCs on iversity will be launched. See all our courses here.

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iversity is buzzing with creative collaboration and intellectual exchange about new MOOCs. Today, the kick-off workshop is in full swing. Our MOOC Fellowship winners and their teams are currently convening at the Stifterverband office in Berlin, amongst others with our Italian Design 101 team completing their road trip (check @stefi_idlab for some hilarious en-route updates).

The workshop marks the beginning of the production phase of ten new, unique MOOCs. As iversity plans how to best offer higher education in the digital age, fellows are forming a community and together shaping, revising, and solidifying their course concepts.

Together, they will “revolutionize how we use the Internet,” said iversity CEO Marcus Riecke as he welcomed our professors. iversity is orienting our fellowship teams, outlining how MOOCs work, the support their iversity partnerships provide, and different ways to teach and assess online and attract students to courses.

The fellows, however, take center stage, sharing their course components and higher education ideas- and their razor-sharp intellect over shared meals and downtime. 

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iversity: As organiser of the MOOC Fellowship competition and writer of a non-fiction book on the digitalisation of higher education*, you represent iversity as its only employee on the jury that chooses the grant recipients. Why is the jury comprised of one employee from iversity and Stifterverband respectively, with all other members representing different fields? 

Hannes Klöpper: We created a jury of independent experts from diverse backgrounds to best choose the right courses. Our different perspectives legitimise the Fellowship results, proving MOOC relevance in different lines of work and education in general.

iversity: Unlike most other MOOC platforms, founded by professors, iversity was founded by students. Some 250 lecturers entered the competition but 70,000 people voted for their favourite courses. Does the competition’s popularity and large number of voters point to iversity’s unique approach to MOOCs?

Hannes Klöpper: We think so. Almost everybody on iversity’s team has a college degree, worked with academic institutions or is still pursuing a degree. Jonas Liepmann founded iversity while a student of cultural studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. We approach MOOCs as students and customers, understanding the perspectives of those interested in free, higher-level education. Public competitions through social media are normal for university students, academic distinctions, however, are awarded behind closed doors. We made student interest visible by creating a public voting.

iversity: The competition was big news, not only through social networks but also for traditional media. The university desk of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported on Fellowship submissions, while newspapers focused on the money winners receive. Funding isn’t all that grant recipients need for high-quality MOOCs, which will be free for consumers. Aside from 25,000 Euros (around $33,000), what should Fellows expect from iversity?

Hannes Klöpper: We take the meaning of the word “Fellowship” seriously. We hope a true “class of fellows” emerges from the competition, that winners will support one another and remain in touch, from planning stages to production to running courses. We’re creating a space where Fellows develop ideas and explore what higher education can and will look like in the digital age.

iversity offers a lot more than funding: we not only provide support for  technical aspects in MOOC production, but also help define education conceptually. We will teach the most successful ways to launch MOOCs, and introduce new ideas to test with the Fellows. I’m looking forward to learning from them.

I’m confident that we will create amazing courses. We will not only have the press and students critically reviewing our courses, but also other instructors who partook in the Fellowship competition.

iversity: You watched hundreds of video applications. You can’t reveal your favourites as a jury member, but what can you say about the quality of the applications?

Hannes Klöpper: I am amazed by their range in quality, their sheer quantity and the diversity of those who entered them. We received submissions from notable experts in their respective fields, as well as lecturers with more practical approaches from universities of applied science. A few months ago, some questioned whether German universities and professors “know how to MOOC,” or even “want MOOCs” at all. The Fellowship competition has proven that German lecturers can create excellent course designs, showing quality in content, educational design, and methodology.

iversity: What steps is the jury taking to choose courses?

Hannes Klöpper: The jury will first obtain an overview of all the proposals online. We will then discuss course concepts and together determine which are strongest. There are some favourites among voters and I have some personal favourites, but only together will we pick Fellows. I am curious about the debates that will ensue during deliberations, as well as to see the competition’s final results.

iversity: Many participants asked during the voting phase how and when they can enrol in the chosen MOOCs?

Hannes Klöpper: We will first notify grant recipients. On the 10th of June, the public can start to pre-enrol in courses on iversity’s website. On the blog, we will report on winning MOOCs.

*Yehuda Elkana, Hannes Klöpper; The university in the 21st century: Towards a new unity of teaching, research and society (German)

Hannes Kloepper Buch Universitaet

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