UCL News


UCL MOOC development: Call for expressions of interest to develop UCL's first two MOOCs

29 April 2015

Central funding has been made available on the basis that MOOC development will address UCL's strategic priorities.


The total amount bid for each course should be around £15,000 - £25,000, depending, for example, on the existing video resource available. If you opt for funding above the £15,000 level, you will be asked to designate the nature of the enhancement this would allow.

For any level of funding, £15,000 must be spent by 31 July 2015.

Proposers are invited to seek partnership funding instead of, or in addition to UCL central funding. The support and quality assurance processes will be the same.

For more information on MOOCs and why we are running them, please see the information below.

The process

All members of UCL staff are eligible to apply for funding, via their Head of Department.

This call is for expressions of interest in developing a MOOC to run on the FutureLearn platform at some point within the coming 12 months. There will be further calls each year.

  • There will be a briefing meeting 1-2pm on 12 May 2015 (Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre).
  • The deadline for expressions of interest is 22 May 2015.
  • The deadline for proposals is 8 June 2015.

The brief is attached here.

The proposal form is here.

If you intend to submit a proposal, please send an 'expression of interest' email to d.laurillard@ioe.ac.uk stating your name and department, working title, contact email, and likely dates for running the course. This is not a commitment, but assists the planning process.

Once accepted for development, the course team would receive support from FutureLearn, and from central unit staff for market analysis, pedagogical design, team collaboration, scheduling, teaching support, quality assurance, and evaluation.

What is a MOOC?

The main characteristics of MOOCs are:

  • They are short non-credit-bearing courses (~ 6 weeks, 5-10 hours per week)
  • They are free and open to all, and run entirely online on a specialised platform
  • They are usually pitched at first-year undergraduate level to professional level
  • They attract 10,000s of registrants, of whom ~50% become active participants
  • ~70% of participants are professionals with degrees
  • ~10% are at undergraduate level

Participants can opt to pay for a statement of participation (~£30) or a statement of attainment in a marked exam (£120)

This open online course format run by top universities on a high quality platform is what has led to their 'massive' participation rates.

The pedagogic form is typically to provide videos and other presentational resources, discussion forums, and automated tests, with peer assessment of assignments. This means that academic time is spent primarily on the design and development of resources and activities, with minimal student support as the course runs. Typically, Teaching Assistants will be employed to monitor and engage with the forum discussions, for a few hours a week. In this way a small number of academics can reach very large numbers of course participants.

Why would we run MOOCs?

There are clear attractions for both academics and universities. Evaluation reports show that for those participants who stay with a course it can attract very high approval ratings. Despite the low completion rates they still reach very large numbers. The high registrations bring global visibility to the university, the course topic, and the academics running it.

As with any educational provision, the cost of running a MOOC varies depending on, for example, its duration, the nature of the topic, the diversity of the audience, the amount of material already available, the amount of media production required, etc. Some are produced for as little as £15,000, others for as much as £100,000, the amount and quality of the video being the main factor in the variation. It should be recognised that with low optional fees there is little or negative direct financial return.

Most universities cite marketing, in terms of recruitment to online and campus courses, and reputational value, as providing a return on investment, although this has been difficult to prove.

The more convincing arguments for the value of running a MOOC are (i) the dissemination of research findings to very large numbers of professionals or students, and (ii) the pull-through from pedagogic innovation in a MOOC to pedagogic innovation in campus undergraduate courses.

With respect to UCL strategy, and the Education Strategy in particular, there is a great potential to use MOOCs to support our Global Citizenship initiative, to support and take forward all four Challenges, and to draw on and extend the Connected Curriculum basis of our research-based approach to education.

To summarise, the main UCL strategic priorities for running a MOOC are to:

  • improve our digital pedagogies for research-based education
  • attract more students to our online and campus courses
  • attract professionals to online CPD and Life Learning
  • improve research impact
  • promote UCL's research impact in key strategic areas
  • It is expected that most proposals would be targeting one or more of these priorities. 

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs)