Berlin-based MOOCs startup iversity, which last year began a pivot away from online learning collaboration tools with the aim of becoming the Coursera of Europe, is launching its first clutch of free online courses today.
Back in March, iversity told TechCrunch it was hoping to attract six-digits’ worth of students at the launch of its MOOCs. And it’s managed to do so — saying initial student sign-ups have exceeded 100,000.
iversity CEO Marcus Riecke said the level of launch traction it has achieved proves the MOOCs concept can fly in continental Europe, which has lagged the U.S. in experimenting with the massive online courses model for free-to-learn higher education. In the U.S. a raft of MOOCs players have sprung up, with Coursera, Harvard- and MIT-backed edX and Udacity being among the biggest.
Size is key to the MOOCs phenomenon — the M stands for ‘massive’ after all — with routes to monetisation typically requiring a portion of students to be willing to pay to get certifications. Ergo, the more students a MOOCs purveyor attracts, the more profits they are likely to be able to generate down the line (since only a percentage of users are likely to end up paying).
Six MOOCs are available from iversity at launch, with its initial curriculum spanning 24 courses in total (15 of which are in English, with the rest in German). The other courses will start at later dates this year and on into 2014.
iversity originally planned to finance 10 MOOCs at launch. Riecke said it’s been able to co-finance “some” of the additional 14 in its curriculum out of existing budgets, but the “bulk of financing” came from the universities and individual professors who are offering the course content. The MOOCs are being provided by a range of continental European universities, including Hamburg University and the University of Osnabrück, and individual professors from Europe and the U.S.
“While our main focus is European universities and professors, we are certainly open to U.S. institutions and teachers who want to work with us,” Riecke added.
Initial course content spans a wide spectrum of topics — including philosophy, physics, architecture, economics, politics and engineering. Some of the courses hosted on iversity.org will grant students credit points for completion, in line with the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).
iversity also revealed that certain of its initial MOOCs have “reached five-figure enrolment numbers” — with the three most popular at launch being:
- The Future of Storytelling by the Fachhochschule (University of Applied Sciences) Potsdam — with more than 27,000 enrollments
- Design 101 (or Design Basics), offered by the Academia de Belle Arti in Catania, has 17,000 enrolled students
- Public Privacy: Cyber Security and Human Rights by the Humboldt Viadrina School of Governance in Berlin — with 16,000 students enrolled
“We receive requests from professors and institutions wanting to produce a MOOC on a daily basis,” said Hannes Klöpper, Managing Director of iversity, in a statement. “This is a clear sign that universities and professors have recognised the potential for bringing university-level education online.”
How big does iversity hope to get? “We envisage that by the end of 2014, we will have scaled to more than 100 MOOCs and more than 1 million students/users,” Riecke told TechCrunch.
To enable it to keep on growing, iversity is gearing up to raise a Series A — either before Christmas or at the start of the New Year — according to Riecke. Discussing how it plans to monetise its MOOCs, he said business models it’s considering are:
- (i) payments by students for the final certificate of a MOOC, e.g. when the course yields official ECTS credit points
- (ii) matching graduates of our MOOCs with job opportunities that fit the course subject matter
However iversity’s initial focus is on scaling the number of students and ensuring its courses are well received. “Before extracting revenues, real demonstrable value for the end user is key: therefore, we want to get to greater scale economies first and genuinely improve the lives of our users by the kinds of education opportunities we have provided,” he said. “Once we’ve succeeded in demonstrating the value that we and our MOOCs offer, we will focus more on monetization.”
iversity’s MOOCs launch comes hot on the heels of another European newcomer to the massive open online courses space, Futurelearn, kicking off its offering. Futurelearn is offering 20 free courses for starters, eight of which are scheduled to begin within October to December. (Indeed, coincidentally, the first Futurelearn course also starts today.)