Coursera and Udacity are NOT Open Courseware

Baywatch The MOOC

For a guy who says he doesn’t blog about MOOC’s much, 2 in a week might be a record. But there is something about this Exporting Education article that really bugs me. It is the way that the article implies that Coursera and Udacity are the same as Open Courseware and they clearly are not.

At the heart of the difference is the way the content is licensed in the different courses. OCW courses use open licenses, meaning the content can be modified. Courses from Coursera and Udacity are not openly licensed; they cannot be modified for local contexts. In the context of the article, this is a vitally important distinction to make since the article states that:

MOOCs are being welcomed as a free resource and adapted to local contexts

Well, not if they are Coursera or Udacity courses since most of the content is copyright by those corporations (unless the participating institution negotiates to releases their Coursera MOOC material intentionally with open licenses, like, I believe, UBC has with their Coursera offerings).

This is the fundamental problem many in the open movement have with Coursera and Udacity – they are not open resources. But yet they are getting connected by association to the open resource movement. And this is wrong. Not only does it undermine the many years of hard work done by open education advocates to make sure educational resources are openly licensed resources, it is a vitally important pedagogical difference, especially when examined through the lens of this article.

The article makes the point that, MOOC’s as they are being implemented and used in developing countries have the potential to reduce local capacities and lead to the Americanization of education in the developing world. The MacDonald’s version of higher ed. Or, as the author puts it with a better metaphor, the “Baywatch” of learning.

It’s easy to imagine a future in which the educational equivalent of reruns of Baywatch—a limited menu of glossy American fare—comes to dominate the cultural landscape in developing countries around the world, making it more difficult for cash-starved universities in those countries to pursue scholarship relevant to local contexts

One of the ways to keep this from happening is by making sure the courses are openly licensed so that they can be legally adapted to a local context. If developing worlds end up relying on corporations like Coursera and Udacity who tightly control courses using copyright as their enforcement hammer, then developing worlds will end up with a corporate one size fits all educational model. Education outsourced to America. Whereas if those developing countries are free to take and modify courses & educational resources to fit their local context – like they are with OCW materials – then they will have a distributed, highly contextual model of education that better fits their community.

Coursera vs OCW are fundamentally different in this regard. Open Courseware material empowers educators whereas Coursera material creates dependency. Or a market, depending on how cynical your perspective is.

Photo: Baywatch The MOOC is released by me under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. It is a modified version of the following images:


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


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