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Competing MOOC Providers Expand Into New Territory—and Each Other’s

Two major providers of massive open online courses have announced new expansions of their stables of university partners, which now overlap for the first time.

Coursera, already the largest MOOC provider, announced that it would build courses with 29 new partners, nearly doubling the number of universities in its network, to 62.

Meanwhile, edX, a nonprofit project started last year by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced it would add six new partners, including three universities—Rice University, the University of Toronto, and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (in Switzerland)—that already offer MOOCs through Coursera.

The moves represent efforts by both Coursera and edX to bring more institutions outside the United States into their folds. Sixteen of the new Coursera partners are beyond U.S. borders, as are five of the new edX partners. Some new MOOCs on Coursera will be available in Chinese, French, Italian, and Spanish, the company said in a news release.

But perhaps more intriguing to MOOC watchers is that there are now three institutions that have agreed to build courses with both edX and Coursera—providers that have been vying for partners, and the spotlight, from opposite coasts and opposite sides of the nonprofit/for-profit divide.

Among other differences, Coursera and edX propose different models for sharing any revenue that their MOOCs might generate. (For details on edX’s financial terms with its university partners, and how its agreements differ from Coursera’s, see this article.)

But for universities weighing whether to put courses on edX or Coursera—or both—the considerations are not merely financial, especially since neither organization is making any serious money yet.

At Rice University, in Houston, the decision to sign with edX, despite having already struck a deal with Coursera, came from the faculty, said Caroline Levander, the university’s vice provost for interdisciplinary initiatives.

“It may be that there are courses that are aligned with the technical capabilities of the edX platform,” Ms. Levander told The Chronicle, “as well as the not-for-profit and open-source features” of that platform.

For example, Rice plans to integrate its existing analytics tools, which measure student engagement with the free learning materials in the university’s OpenStax database, into edX’s open-source platform.

Ms. Levander demurred when asked how large of a role faculty preference for nonprofit partners had played in the groundswell of support for edX. But she did say that many faculty members had been moved by a recent presentation on the campus by Anant Agarwal, president of edX, who has not been shy about pitching his organization as the more natural ally of nonprofit higher education.

edX, which has grown at a much slower pace than Coursera, in recent months has relaxed its attitude toward MOOC monogamy with its institutional partners. The nonprofit’s agreement with the University of Texas system, signed last October, forbade the Texas system to enter into “a collaboration with or similar agreement with,” or to provide “significant institutional resources to,” any other MOOC provider, according to a copy of that agreement obtained by The Chronicle via a public-records request.

As recently as January, edX was seeking “a pretty stringent exclusivity clause” in its negotiations with Rice, according to Ms. Levander. “Since then, they’ve loosened their exclusivity clause significantly,” she said.

The new university partners of the two MOOC providers are as follows:

edX

  • Australian National University
  • Delft University of Technology (Netherlands)
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland)
  • McGill University (Canada)
  • Rice University
  • University of Toronto (Canada)

Coursera

  • Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain)
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Curtis Institute of Music
  • École Polytechnique (France)
  • IE Business School (Spain)
  • Leiden University (Netherlands)
  • Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
  • Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education’s Virtual University (Mexico)
  • National Autonomous University of Mexico
  • National Taiwan University
  • National University of Singapore
  • Northwestern University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • Rutgers University
  • Sapienza University of Rome
  • Technical University of Denmark
  • Technical University of Munich
  • University of California at San Diego
  • University of California at Santa Cruz
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of Copenhagen
  • University of Geneva
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Tokyo
  • University of Wisconsin at Madison
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