Is edX a win

Coursera, Udacity and edX: How "online universities" enrich everyday offline life

More and more internationally renowned universities as well as independent offers are offering online courses free of charge and without access restrictions. Local students can also benefit from these services. We introduce the most important providers.

Overcrowded lecture hall? Dröger Prof? The few good lecturers are rarely there because they prefer to work as consultants and have their assistants give lectures instead? The cool professor from last semester, who was able to explain even the most complex issues in such a way that you could understand them, got a call to Stanford and left? Anyone who finds themselves in this scenario is most likely enrolled in a mass course of study at a large German university.

The typical motivational sagging in studies is best countered with new stimulus points and impulses. Go to Stanford too? It might be better, but unfortunately that doesn't fit into the budget at the moment. Get Stanford on your screen through the offers of open e-learning platforms? Better than nothing, but is it worth it? Yes!Motivation through content instead of credit points

MOOCs, "Massive Open Online Courses", are online courses that are freely accessible. Once limited to a few IT topics, a wide range of content is now offered from different courses and addressed to an international audience. Originally initiated by only a few US educational institutions, more and more universities around the world are becoming involved in this environment on their own, or have joined forces to create networks for their online offers. First of all: At the moment it is primarily about the interest of the participants in the respective subject area and not about "notes". Across all providers, all offers are initially free of charge and without any obligation to test.

Some service providers also offer final exams and the acquisition of corresponding certificates for certain courses, but there are still no uniform standards: Some universities already take exams online, others (including Princeton) completely refuse to award certificates of achievement to anyone on the web Kind, because "online" there would be a high risk of fraud and your reputation would be jeopardized. Still others (MIT, Harvard) are already testing the use of regional centers in which candidates can take final tests under supervision at the computer - comparable state-recognized distance learning courses in Germany - so that certificates will in future also gain a corresponding weight and be accepted on the labor market.

To date, however, such certificates have generally not been credited towards one's own performance in regular face-to-face or combined courses. What all offers have in common is that interested parties focus on intrinsic motivation and not on collecting performance records.

Lecturers who see "online" not as a chore, but as an opportunity. For yourself too.

The commitment of many lecturers is no coincidence: higher education in general - and in the USA in particular - is considered to be a difficult working environment. Here, too, career opportunities do not necessarily arise from special skills, knowledge and ambitions, but also from origin, personal network or the "right" party membership. In a nutshell: If you come from "the right family" or an "old university nobility" as a teacher in the USA, you also have better career opportunities on campus. "Online" offers many lecturers new opportunities: If you can convince 100,000 online participants of your knowledge transfer skills instead of 1,000 students annually on campus or even inspire them, you will also have new opportunities to sharpen your own profile and your own Strengthening reputation: Still free of charge, this form of online education is - again - a market of the future in which companies are also showing ever greater interest for the purpose of personnel recruitment and further training, from which ultimately the best online lecturers will also benefit.

However, whether the drive is for the fun of teaching and new methods or for self-interest is ultimately irrelevant for the learners. The only important thing for them is that the "product" is good.

Overview of the most important providers of open e-learning platforms

Well-known US universities have long since not only offered courses on their own, but have also made them available in cooperation with other internationally recognized universities via shared networks. The world's largest platform is Coursera, a provider through which, initiated by some US elite universities, a total of 198 courses from various subject areas are now made available by 33 universities worldwide. The spectrum ranges from the development of user-friendly user interfaces, history, design, the structure and evolution of social networks to courses on professional songwriting. For orientation purposes, all of the instructional videos are often already available and accessible to everyone before registering for a module, as shown here using the example of a course on the subject of gamification. For many offers, certificates are awarded after successful completion. An extensive range, semantic search, clear structure, concise course descriptions and appealing video teasers arouse curiosity and make you want more.


Udacity is a project by the German professor Sebastian Thrun, who describes the genesis of his platform here in an interview. In contrast to Coursera, the portal is aimed exclusively at budding programmers and developers, for whom video courses are offered on various topics, graded according to different degrees of difficulty. The spectrum ranges from events introducing computer science to applied cryptography. The video sessions are held by Professor Thrun or by guest lecturers from renowned US universities. The portal is equally clear, clear and tidy and yet modern: You can log in via social login via Twitter or Facebook, but detailed excerpts can be started directly via browser without logging in. The platform is self-explanatory and the videos are often entertaining. The offer is free, as are the certificates. The easy access through an appealing "click & learn" interface pulls the user into the action immediately.


At edX, however, things are "dry". MIT and the universities of Harvard, Berkeley and Texas System together provide a total of only nine modules, exclusively from the area of ​​"Computer Science". The offer is sober and is aimed at a specialist audience that does not have to be "picked up", but rather searches specifically for web offers of this type with interest and prior knowledge. Courses and certificates are also free here. In contrast to the other two providers, who not only convey content, but also want to develop e-learning themselves, this offer does not apply: Where the two competitors can shine with design elements, crisp video teasers and clear course descriptions, they do edX dröger Uni-Mief broad: In the course descriptions, the curriculum vitae of the respective lecturer often takes up far more space than the information on the topic or the course itself. The story of graying men with huge nerd glasses from the 1970s who awkwardly into the Look at camera. A visit to edX sometimes feels like reading the blurb of a "standard work" and is therefore only partially suitable for beginners in the respective subject areas.

The differences in content can be illustrated using the example of a module that all three platforms offer in a similar form. "Introduction to programming with Python": At Coursera, "arousing interest" is in the foreground, at Udacity a holistic teaching model, (Why should you actually be able to program? -> Where do you start? get started? -> How does Python work?) and at edX it is only viewed as a basis that one should know in order to be able to devote oneself to more complex topics.

With all providers, the language of instruction is English, but the level of difficulty is moderate: Since the courses are aimed at an international audience, speaking is usually relatively slow and accentuated, so that the explanations can also be followed with rusty school English. A list, in which the complete range of the services mentioned is presented as a general overview, is available here. The Hasso Plattner Institute operates a small German reinterpretation of the English-language MOOC.

Conclusion: Online courses have not turned higher education upside down, but they do enrich it

From the video trailers and tutorials of some courses, I had the feeling that it is often really about arousing interest and wanting to get people excited about its content. An asset for young people who want to orientate themselves but have not yet found their direction. Even professionals who have to refresh their knowledge of once "unloved" topics for the job benefit from such offers. Students who are perhaps currently in a crisis with regard to the initial scenario can also benefit from the additional use of these external sources: on the one hand in terms of content, on the other hand perhaps only through the motivation boost that a possible change of perspective brings with it can: "How is what I'm currently stuck on or about which I'm angry at the moment, taught somewhere else and by someone else?". Those who can answer this question themselves via online courses also have the chance to get a new impetus for their stalled face-to-face study.

To describe such mass courses all too euphorically as the "future of education" is to be measured, as an additional resource and possible impulse generator for advancement in one's own educational situation, but they are undoubtedly appropriate.