The True MOOC Revolution? EdX Starts to Open Source its Platform

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It’s the beginning of spring, and new MOOC platforms are popping up like crazy in Europe. First, there was the launch of UK-based MOOC platform Futurelearn at the end of December. As a side note, there was an article in The Guardian in early December stating that UK universities were wary about joining the MOOC train. Well, apparently they were just waiting for a local alternative to the US-based platforms.

Next we have Germany-based iversity, which kind of pivoted from their earlier model of an academic social network to now becoming a European MOOC platform. The interesting twist here is that iversity has partnered with the Stifterverband Deutsche Wissenschaft to jump start the course offerings through a fellowship program. Universities or professors can apply, and ten projects are going to receive €25K ($32K) to create their respective course.

Last but not least, a team of former Nokia employees launched Eliademy and are currently working on a Blackboard competitor, but will eventually cross over into the MOOC space — this is pretty similar to what we have seen with Instructure and its Open Canvas product.

Do we really need another MOOC platform?

One question I have kept asking myself since the beginning of the MOOC hype is “Do we really need another MOOC platform?” I actually don’t see the point in it, as the basic functionalities are always the same — even the content available doesn’t differ that much, as most university partners offer their courses on different MOOC platforms.

If I were more cynical, I would say that I see strong indicators of MOOC platforms taking advantage of other people’s pursuit of knowledge in order to make a profit for the individual founders and their VCs. When people talk about the BIG opportunity in education these days, they seem to talk about revenue opportunities instead of the opportunity to deliver free and open education to the masses on a global scale. But, as I said that would be cynical, right?

Honestly, wouldn’t it be better to create a unified platform and build on it together, instead of scattering the space with different platforms? I surely think so, and that’s why I am pretty excited about the potential of edX, the often forgotten MOOC non-profit platform founded by MIT and Harvard.

edX and XBlock SDK – the only MOOC we need?

Last week, I had the chance to talk to edX president Anant Agarwal as part of my Today’s Campus Innovation Interview Series, and I have to say that I’m impressed by the idea behind edX and how they handle the research part of their mission as well as the general vision of continuous education.

Another edX promise becomes a reality today: the team is open sourcing the XBlock SDK, which powers the edX platform. This means developers from around the globe will be able to download the source code and create their own versions of edX, build new applications based on it, and hopefully share it with others to create even better online learning experiences.

“From its beginning, edX has been committed to developing the world’s best learning platform and tapping our global community to help us get there. We look forward to working with the world’s developers, educators and researchers to help evolve the platform and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to the world-class education that edX provides.” — Rob Rubin, edX Vice President of Engineering

The XBlock source code is available immediately and can be accessed at http://github.com/edX/XBlock.

Imagine if all the smart people that now create their own solutions were to join the edX developer community and worked on a unified platform. I think this is a great opportunity to further lower the entrance barrier to high class education, taking away the need to find a viable business model for MOOC platform providers and instead focus on affordable alternatives that generate enough revenue to make the platform self sustainable.

I am pretty sure that we are soon going to see the first use cases, and these will come out of developing countries, probably in South America or Africa. I am pretty excited to see what those developers are going to create based on the edX source code. What do you think? Leave a comment below!

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