Entrepreneur

Europe’s experiment with open online education accelerates in Berlin

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Europe’s interest in massive online open courses (MOOCs) is taking off as homegrown platforms set up shop to rival incumbents Coursera, Udacity and EdX in the US.

The latest to do so is Berlin-based Iversity. The two-year-old company, founded by Hannes Klöpper and Jonas Liepmann and led by new CEO Markus Riecke, announced today that it has signed up over 115,000 students across an initial batch of 24 courses covering design, engineering, chemistry, finance, policy and creative writing.

There are now at least six organizations in Europe that host MOOCs – UnX, Miríada X, OpenupEd, OpenCourseWorld, Iversity and FutureLearn. Since there are no geographic barriers for MOOCs, they compete directly with other providers around the world.

Coursera, the largest provider worldwide, hit four million student sign-ups in July 2013 (a bit less impressive than it sounds as MOOC providers tend to experience high drop-out rates). It offers 460 courses in 13 languages – though the bulk are in English – in partnership with about 80 educational institutions, including top-end universities in Europe.

Iversity currently offers 14 courses in English and 10 in German in partnership with universities and professors from Europe and the US. The most popular courses so far are “The Future of Storytelling” (by the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences – more than 27,000 sign-ups), “Design 101″ (by the Academia de Belle Arti in Catania – 17,000 sign-ups) and “Public Privacy: Cyber Security and Human Rights” (by the Humboldt Viadrina School of Governance in Berlin – 16,000 sign-ups).

It’s easy to see what’s in it for the students. Some are looking for a cheap way to add new skills to their resume, others will be treating it as a mind-expanding alternative to a good book or TED Talk.

But what about the professors who actually teach the courses?

“A mix of idealism and curiosity for the most part,” Hannes Klöpper, one of Iversity’s two cofounders, said. “Potentially they’re seeking fame, but not fortune at this point – there’s no fortune to be had.”

The courses are free, although the company did provide ten €25,000 fellowships at kick-off, but that may change. Once Iversity is happy that students are satisfied with the product, it plans to introduce a business model, which is likely to involve some sort of revenue-sharing deal. “We’re toying with ideas at the moment,” Klöpper said.

A common way MOOC providers make money is to charge students for optional certificates of completion. This isn’t necessarily a throwaway piece of paper. Students who pass an on-campus exam for two of Iversity’s courses – “Algorithms and Data Structures”, in partnership with the University of Osnabrück, and “Fundamentals of Marketing”, in partnership with the Lübeck University of Applied Sciences (FH Lübeck) – will be recognized by the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System.

By the end of 2014, the company’s leadership team hopes it can hit more than 100 MOOCs and more than one million students. To help it get there, it hopes to raise a new round of investment funding towards the end of this year.

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This story originally appeared on VentureVillage.


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