On edX and MOOCs

Been some time since my last post. The main reason is this.

We're on the front page!

We’re on the front page!

The picture shows the front page of edX. And we’ve been waiting a month to get on that front page – they put us on around 36 hours before we go live. Thanks edX! The numbers will be boosted a bit.

This post is going to be a bit reflective, but that is what blogs are for.

Why did the PolyU get into MOOCs?

My belief is that the PolyU got into MOOCs because it is (was?) the current trend and it did not want to be left behind; it wanted to show that it was up there with the Harvards and MITs; at the same time it was supposedly joining the edX club, and mixing with those top ranked universities.

Why did the ELC get into MOOCs?

We were asked to. What would have happened if we had said no? I think there would have probably been a lack of volunteers, so in that sense the PolyU were fortunate to have us.

Were we right to get into MOOCs?

I think all the teams have collectively learnt a great deal. The PolyU’s brand has been enhanced somewhat, but maybe not to the extent that was hoped a couple of years ago. The ELC, along with HKUST EC, is one of a very small number of English Centres around the world that have launched a MOOC. Something we can be proud of.

Have we missed the boat?

MOOCs were a trend, and there is a question now as to whether we have gone past the peak. One of the problems we have had with our MOOC starting in October is that there are apparently 398 other courses (Clcik on the link – Class Central had some very kind words for me) starting the same month. The market is getting saturated. We were told to find a niche market, but we decided our title 10 months ago, and now even edX has competing MOOCs on job interviews, let alone all the other MOOC providers. The numbers are not going to get less in the future, and this means getting the high number of enrollees is likely to be increasingly difficult.

Quality or Quantity

I’ve had a few conversations about this over the last couple of months, and some more very kind words have been said. MOOCs are supposed to be massive, so if you don’t attract massive numbers, then are you a success? At the same time, how important is quality? More of that on another day.


We were told marketing was important early on, but I did not realise how important, and how little I know about it. Problems we have had – getting traditional media interested in the story; the continuing importance of traditional media in getting a story noticed; how a story can be easily lost in social media; how it is very easy to spend, and lose money advertising on Facebook, AdWords and YouTube; we now know how to get YouTube views and Facebook likes, but we also know that does not translate into enrollees; we’ve learnt about dealing with print shops; we know more about Adobe and making posters; we have developed partnerships with Chinese suppliers, and I’ve learned to trust people I only know on Wechat! And then, at the end of the day, if I had done nothing at all – what would the numbers be like?

Video Making?

We were first told to make a 4 minute trailer video. It had to be glossy. Like an advert. Ours came in at 3:34.   Too long we were then told! So we cut it, and it came in at 1:22:

Do I regret the money and time spent making it? Not really. The whole experience in total was immensely enjoyable, and I’ve learnt more in these past few months than at probably any other time in my life. Yes, totally exhausting and at time very frustrating.  And yes, that energy could have been spent elsewhere. But, I’m still happy that the videos and the courses are there.

And that was only one (or two!) of the videos we made. We made dozens and dozens of them. In truth I’ve lost count. The video company did send me a long list, but that’s another story. Lessons learned: keep it simple, and do as much as you can in-house to keep control – especially with videos which need a lot of annotations. But, when you do it yourself, the main thing is sound quality. And keep the camera in focus!

On edX?

I wonder what their plan is. They have 5 million students now, although most are probably not active; still, not a bad number. And these are by and large young (our average student age is 25), highly educated (first degree or higher), and therefore potentially very high earners. And they have them. Not PolyU. Not HKU. Not HKUST. We supply the courses, and we pay to get them on edX, and we pay to get them created, but edX has this marketers dream mailing list. Good deal for them. They are promoting the verified certificate now – probably a sign of things to come.


The future of MOOCs. This could be a post in itself, so I’ll try to keep this short. The idea of providing top-class free education to those who would otherwise not have access is a great idea, and too some extent MOOCs achieve this. But, then you look at who usually joins MOOCs, and it is highly educated western males (although on our MOOC, it is highly educated Indian males!). I believe other universities will be more careful in the coming years of joining organisations like edX, and instead more local versions (such as CU KEEP) will become more popular. I think the free model will also gradually disappear, and instead there will be a limited access free version, and a paid for full version.

What’s next?

Get the courses running; enjoy them; take stock; and rest.

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