Google Joins Top Universities in Quest to Fulfill Potential of Online Education

7,520 28 Loading

SH 185_#4 BIG

With online education, you don't have to go to MIT to learn from one of MIT's top professors. You don't have to spend six figures or four years to get knowledge applicable to the career of your choosing. Education can continue all your life, if you like.

The idea is full of potential. But today, it's still an experiment, and as anyone who's taken a course will tell you, the experience is far from perfect.

One challenge is getting people to fully commit to classes. 90% of enrolled students never finish. Another problem is figuring out how to allow educators the latitude to get creative building their courses. That is, they aren't programmers, so how do you give them the tools to focus on what they do best?

To tackle problem two, Google is joining forces with edX, a collaboration of 29 top universities offering 72 online courses, to build an open source online education platform. The new platform, called Open edX, will allow anyone—from universities, to corporations, to individuals—to build and host online courses of their own making.

SH 185_#2The new platform will be rolled out on a site called in early 2014, and anyone interested in creating their own course can get instructions and tools developed by Open edX. But they won't be limited to Open edX tools. It is open source, after all.

While edX has the resources and education experience of the likes of MIT and Harvard, Google is Google. The firm is idealistic, flush with cash and programming talent, and open to projects with no immediate revenue stream in sight. Further, Google has dipped its toes into online education with an open source online education platform called Course Builder.

Course Builder was launched late last summer as a tool for educators interested in taking their wares online. With the new edX collaboration, the firm plans to keep Course Builder running but nudge its users to Open edX in the future.

An open source platform involving some of the top educational institutions in the world and one of the most successful firms in tech? Sounds like a fruitful alliance. EdX's president said they hope it will be like a "YouTube for MOOCs."

Coursera's Signature Track offers course credit for a fee.

Coursera's Signature Track offers course credit for a fee.

Not everyone is going free and open source. Coursera, a for-profit online educator, boasts 5 million students, 453 classes, and 88 institutions around the world. And whereas Google and edX want to improve the online education experience—Coursera is trying to figure out how to keep students engaged and give them credit for their work.

In that vein, Coursera launched its Signature Track program in the beginning of 2013. For a set fee per class, Signature Track links online coursework to your identity and offers Verified Certificates for completed coursework. Verified Certificates don't add up to a degree, but they are issued by the university offering the course. 25,000 students have signed up, bringing in $1 million in revenue so far.

Also, offering academic credit for a fee seems to be increasing completion rates. Coursera says that controlling for self selection—those enrolled are likely already more likely to complete their class—Signature Track increases the stickiness of online courses.

There's room to be skeptical online education will ever equal traditional methods. And it's been hyped to high heaven in recent years. But fleshing out its potential requires the experimentation, open source or otherwise, we're seeing today.

Ultimately, it may be a combination of software and hardware that makes online education viable. An Oculus Rift, for example, paired with an immersive virtual world, could engage future students on the cheap and from anywhere in the world.

Images courtesy of

Jason Dorrier

Jason is managing editor of Singularity Hub. He cut his teeth doing research and writing about finance and economics before moving on to science, technology, and the future. He is curious about pretty much everything, and sad he'll only ever know a tiny fraction of it all.

Discussion — 28 Responses

  • Ernest Barker September 29, 2013 on 4:54 pm

    Coursera home pag says “Take the world’s best courses, online, for free”. I have ebrolled in one and is free.

    • Ernest Barker Ernest Barker September 29, 2013 on 5:04 pm

      Please ignore my firstcomment. Youbut can take couses for free. But, if you are taking them for credit, it wikk cost you.

  • Jack N Fran Farrell September 29, 2013 on 7:54 pm

    About time for the Andragogs to take over from the pedagogs. Connecting concepts by collaborating with peers in study groups is the way adults learn. Google is the best thing for higher education since the mimeograph.

  • NS September 29, 2013 on 9:08 pm

    Look further into future. MOOC (free) is great for distributing/sharing existing knowledge. If MOOC becomes mainstream how will new knowledge be created? Who will fund the research and who will compensate those who build new knowledge? The long term sustainability of the MOOC model remains unsettled as yet.

    • Abhijit Prabhudan NS September 30, 2013 on 9:36 am

      @NS- Have you ever heard about open science, fablabs, makers movement, open access research etc? Most of world’s basic research is publicly funded and should be part of commons. Corporate research is done with long term business models in view. MOOC phenomenon is disruptive innovation to provide life long learning and accessible education to all.

    • Anjali Joshi NS April 1, 2014 on 11:40 pm

      Great article, and I think this is a great initiative by google. I am sure they will find a way to fund that project… Online education is great when you want to either have the flexibility to study at your own pace, just want to learn something new, or physical attending an education institute is not practical. I believe the internet have come to stay…

  • Andrew Atkin September 29, 2013 on 11:56 pm

    Education is back to front. You should watch the lecture at home, and then come in to class to do your “homework”; as required, and only as required.

    The standardised format is definitely the right idea though. At the end of the day you are only distributing information and facilitating communications. It can be standardised well.

    I have had similar ideas on all this:

  • dobermanmacleod September 30, 2013 on 8:32 pm

    I suggest creating a second stage to any on-line material (be it video, audio, or written). It would ask questions, and the responses would be recorded. This would not only reinforce comprehension of the material, but would prove it. There is much much more to this, and I predict it will become a billion dollar website. [email protected]
    P.S. I would do it, but haven’t got around to learning code. Tried to have others do it, but the vision is not easily grokked (which is why I presented it here – I am not afraid of it getting ripped off). Don’t have the resources to use TopCoder.

  • Brad McWilliams October 1, 2013 on 9:28 pm

    I’m convinced that the Oculus Rift and virtual reality are the future of education. It’s all about creating an engaging and exciting learning experience. Why read long, boring chapters when you could experience the subject / learning material in an immersive, interactive virtual environment? It’s easier to learn visually, and as real-time graphics continue to advance, these virtual experiences will become breathtakingly lifelike. Not to mention multi-user experiences, which will fundamentally change the way we collaborate and learn. And as jobs shift to more meaningful tasks, instead of repetitive wage slave jobs (due to increasing automation and computerization) people will be encouraged to learn about what they’re passionate about. Learning will become something people will WANT to do, not have to do. I believe this can happen very soon (the consumer Oculus Rift will be released next year, for an estimated $300); when people realize the massive potential of VR, traditional schooling will begin to either evolve or die out. Because why waste gas, time and money going to a physical school when you can learn everything you’ve ever wanted to learn through VR? Don’t get me wrong – going places and interacting with people is important. But why sit in a boring classroom and watch some guy do a powerpoint (often “teaching to the test”) when you could learn so much more, and so much faster with VR? It’s only a matter of time.

  • Mike Patel October 4, 2013 on 10:47 pm

    this is a good steps in education field by Google.. its really help people so much..

    • Susan Savala Mike Patel October 24, 2013 on 4:29 am

      Lerche said. “It is designed to be affordable because Alan wants it to be a service to the industry.”

    • Facebook - narender.chopra Mike Patel December 17, 2013 on 10:00 am

      Totally Agreed ! It a great help from Google for Online Education seekers. Hope Google will come ahead as a big gun in this field too.

  • Rune Mossige October 25, 2013 on 1:50 pm

    Great article, and I think this is a great initiative by google. I am sure they will find a way to fund that project… Online education is great when you want to either have the flexibility to study at your own pace, just want to learn something new, or physical attending an education institute is not practical. I believe the internet have come to stay…

  • shubham November 18, 2013 on 1:41 am

    That would be good for us if Google will do like this. Nice to read this post.

  • Facebook - gauravratia December 1, 2013 on 9:26 am

    hi Admin ,
    That could be good for us if Google will perform like this. Nice to see this post. yeah i am also agree with all above points .

  • Facebook - gauravratia December 1, 2013 on 9:27 am

    Look further in to future. MOOC (free) is great for distributing/sharing active knowledge. In the event MOOC gets mainstream just how will new knowledge be created? Who will fund your research and that will compensate those that build new knowledge? The long term sustainability on the MOOC design remains unsettled confirmed.

  • Sandeep Sippy January 27, 2014 on 3:52 am

    I suggest creating an additional stage to be able to any on-line materials (be the idea video, sound, or written). It could ask concerns, and the actual responses can be recorded. This may not simply reinforce comprehension from the material, although would demonstrate it. There exists much a lot more to this, and My spouse and i predict it will become any billion $ website.
    R. S. I would do the idea, but haven’t obtained around to be able to learning value. Tried to possess others take action, but the actual vision just isn’t easily grokked (which is the reason why I shown it below – I will be not afraid of it getting ripped off). Don’t possess the resources to make use of Top Programmer.

  • Sanaya Irani February 19, 2014 on 9:01 pm

    Nice Article, I want to give first priority to the education by education we can develop our life.

  • Tushar Petwal February 20, 2014 on 12:35 am

    Really such a nice article, now a days online education is very helpful for those students who can’t go regularly their college, schools specially sites like w3schools, and youtube tutorials help me alot here is one portal specialy based on education niche.

    • Kanika Rajavat Tushar Petwal February 22, 2014 on 1:25 am

      You are right. And this awesome article will help to all types of students. And our web link also will help to all students.

  • March 10, 2014 on 6:44 am

    Well, I totally agree and yeah online education is very helpful for those students who are not able to join regular classes and I am also running a educational blog thanks for the share and will be coming here for sure in future.

  • Rah Jai March 22, 2014 on 6:42 am

    Its a great initiative and should make education accessible to everyone. With falling cost of mobile and tablet devices we should see the fruits of innovation from this initiative. I have learned coding online and developed this website

  • Rohit Dutt April 10, 2014 on 3:32 am

    I Know Google Bring more changes and deals for Online Education System!

  • Rohit Dutt April 10, 2014 on 3:33 am

    Surely Google is trying to change the online education system for computer lovers!

  • Facebook -20 April 12, 2014 on 7:20 pm

    nice and informative..shared the same ideas on

  • albert98 July 7, 2014 on 9:31 pm

    its great afford by Google taking foot over to education, its gone a help people a lot it will be some thing amazing when Google do something for education lets hope what we get over here.

  • mdfirdosh92 July 15, 2015 on 1:48 pm

    Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward i
    aipmt 2015 result