Month: April 2023

technology is what we can learn to do

‘I don’t know how to build and power a refrigerator, or program a computer, but I don’t know how to make a fishhook or a pair of shoes, either. I could learn. We all can learn. That’s the neat thing about technologies. They’re what we can learn to do.’ Ursula le Guin (2004)


Our Learn VLE has been rolled over and all new courses for the whole next academic year have been created in the new template and are now ready to be populated. This has been done more than a month earlier than normal to give people more time to build their courses. Staff should begin to rebuild their courses as soon as possible.

School and deaneries should be encouraging their staff, both academic and professional services, to engage with the changes as early as possible by:

  • Attending a training session
  • Engaging with guidance resources
  • Rebuilding courses early
  • Asking for help if needed, either through the School/Deanery Learning Technologist, or the IS Helpline.

100 MOOCs more

100 MOOCs logo
Celebrating 10 years and 100 MOOCs

University of Edinburgh has been publishing MOOCs as open educational resources for 10 years. Huge thanks go to all the academic teams who choose this route to share the knowledge they have created with learners all over the world.


The Edinburgh online learning portfolio currently includes 80 fully online distance-learning Masters courses drawn from all disciplines, and 90 massive online open short courses (MOOCs) and micro credentials across 3 global platforms. University of Edinburgh reaches 4.5 million learners across every country in the world. Each of the 21 academic schools and deaneries have either a Masters or a MOOC online, and many have both.  The services online students receive are excellent. E-learning students at Edinburgh currently report higher levels of satisfaction and ‘sense of belonging’ than their peers on campus. In 2023 University of Edinburgh is celebrating 10 years of return on investment in MOOCs.

When we began making massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Edinburgh our strategic position was to experiment with new ways of teaching online, to research the kind of learning and courses which could be achieved, and to have fun. We were never in it for the money. Although it was undeniably expensive at the start, the last ten years of this activity have brought considerable return on that investment in terms of what we have learned, the places we have reached and the impact we have had (inside and outwith our own institution).

As Assistant Principal for Online and Open Learning I have taken care to ensure that our online course portfolio is closely aligned with the university mission, values, civic responsibility and aspirations for the future.

Working with three global platform partners ( Coursera, Edx and Futurelearn) has given us unique insight into the business of scaling short courses online and a rich set of data about our materials and our learners. Each of the platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses and the pedagogical tools offered on each have changed rapidly during the ten years. Their business models have changed too and it has been useful to have an institutional platform strategy to help us target the right content on the right platform, for the right audience.  The advice and support available in the platform teams has been useful in understanding what works well. We have been privileged to be so able  to rigorously test our courses, to translate our content into multiple languages and to release significant proportions of it as open educational resources.

Making MOOCs has given us the opportunity to bring a wide range of our university community together. The many research groups, cultural organisations and charities who have developed content with us for the Edinburgh MOOCs have ensured that we have gained a diverse set of voices in discussions about how and why a university can and should make courses freely available online. The MOOCs have offered a rapid channel for knowledge translation and dissemination, public engagement with research, global reach, and a place for discussion and debate with an informed citizenry at times of major geo-political change. In ten years we have found 4.5 million people who choose to learn online from University of Edinburgh, an even though many might say the markets are hot for data skills and cyber-security, our consistently most popular course is one in Philosophy.

The value of these experiments in online learning can also be seen in the capacity building and up-skilling of colleagues. In making and delivering these courses more than 200 academic colleagues, media producers, learning designers and learning technologists cut their teeth and honed their skills for online learning. I am sure that this contributed to our ability to deliver in a crisis and develop resources to help others to do so too. Even during the years of the covid pandemic which closed our campus, our online courses and MOOCs continued to grow and some rapid-response effort from a teams across the university produced a short-course about emergency respiratory healthcare which was studied by 50,000 front-line workers the week it was launched.

Top tips for delivering free short online courses

    • Don’t be afraid to try something new, digital education is an evolving field and you never know where your experiments might lead
    • Get institutional buy-in by aligning your courses with your university’s strategic goals
    • If you have more than one learning platform, develop a platform strategy to ensure that you are using the right platform for the right audience.
    • Work closely with vendor and platform partners to get the most out of your partnership; ensure you can access any data they provide to evidence the reach your platforms deliver.
    • Pay attention to the licensing of all your course content; sharing it appropriately can make it accessible to many more learners globally

See our full list of short online courses Short online courses | The University of Edinburgh