MOOCs and the need to redesign the Finnish Open University

A Escola de Atenas, afresco no Vaticano. Photo by User: tetraktys / Wikimedia Commons.

In Finland we have a great tradition of Open University. Almost all the Finnish universities provide Open University courses. The principal idea behind the Open University is to promote educational and regional equality.

Every year close to 100 000 people take part in the Open University courses in Finland. In a country of 5 million+, that is close to 2 % of the population. A growing number of the courses are fully or partly online courses. This of course makes a lot of sense, when the attempt is to promote equality and access to education for all regardless where do they live.

Now in the field of open education we have the new kids on the block — the MOOCs. In some earlier posts I have asked if the MOOCs really is the lapis philosophorum that will solve our problems in education. I also have asked if the people behind the MOOCs have really understood the motivational aspects in learning. Quite interestingly Udacity, one of the major players in the MOOC-world, just announced that MOOC magic formula is emerging.

Although if the MOOC providers — from the platforms to the Universities — are still in a search of the right process formula they are doing many things right, too. Especially they are great in design. Together the sites have created some kind of common structure and style for the sites. All the MOOC sites from Coursera and edX to Udacity and Stanford online course site all look pretty much the same. All of them come with colorful cover photos of each course, in the front page there are “editors choices” and categories/tags to find the course. Within every course there is also a short introduction video by the instructor and a “sign up” -button. Good design.

Back to the Finnish Open University. Their web presence is very sad. Actually their entire vision of the web site is wrong. It comes clear already from the site’s English name: “The Open University information service”. The current idea of the site is to be a directory of courses offered by the Open University, when it should be a a place to find and *take* courses. The situation is strange especially when more and more courses actually are online courses. Bad design. Very bad service design.

The story of the Open Universities online is not that sad everywhere. The UK Open University’s Open Learn web site is not bad. The Open Learn is still mixing a lot of self-study course, MOOCs with an instructor, syllabus and activities and is not therefore as clear as the MOOC sites, but in the Open Learn they are definitely thinking their learners.

With a redesign, a customer/learner-centric redesign of the Finnish Open University we could have a real impact to the world of learning. Putting 90% of the resources to have online courses and by building a world-class web site with great social networking features, we could easily find a niche market from the long tail. And not necessary even a niche. There are many people who would love to take an online course on school management, introduction to teaching and curriculum, linux kernel, MySQL, game design or scandinavian design. We actually have good teachers for these topics.

2 thoughts on “MOOCs and the need to redesign the Finnish Open University

  1. Cheers for the post Teemu. In addition to your message, I would also emphasise the fact that if there is something so unique about Finnish (online) learning models (as the international media has lately suggested), they should be incorporated with the better usability and design you mentioned here. I have often wondered what is holding back for example frameworks such as the Progressive Inquiry model to spread more widely? It has been used in Finland, online, I have even used it in a fully online teacher certificated program, but apparently its international breakthrough still awaits – most likely because of trust for students and unimaginably idiotic quality assurance practices.

    And about the magic formula: to put it simply, with learning, I do not believe there ever is one, and if one emerges (i.e. gets accepted more widely as one), there will be ripples of various kinds. Unfortunately the majority of the pedagogigal models I have witnessed with e-learning the last 10 years are too often just replicating the quite basic “information delivery” model from f2f classroom practices. And in the core, so are many of the MOOCs. But one has to stay hopeful. 😉

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  2. An interesting post Teemu. I think though this goes beyond design to the underlying beliefs about Open Education and who it is for and what it means. I agree with what you say, but I guess i would be interested in adebate to take things even further. I also happen to be an OU UK graduate and so have used their website extensivley. It could be improved a lot. Even finding courses and modules and information can be frustrating at times.

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