Stay in the loop! Subscribe to our mailing list

Brussels, 10 October 2013

Making sense of the MOOCs


‘MOOC’ stands for Massive Open Online Course, which is a form of distance learning embraced not only by traditional providers of distance learning (e.g. open universities) but also the elites that are highly visible in global rankings. The MOOCment originated from North Americas about five years ago and has rapidly spread around the world, with China, India and recently Europe, all pledging to MOOC along. They do this either by using established big-name American MOOC platforms (e.g. Coursera, edX) or constructing their own (e.g. iversity and FutureLearn in Europe; icourse in China).

MOOC enthusiasts see the movement as a revolutionary change in the world of learning. MOOC sceptics regard it as another technological hype that may soon fade away. The openness of MOOCs is also being called into question when the providers start to attach a price tag to the use of the platform, the licensed content or the certification of the learning results. Besides, some MOOCs are no longer ‘courses’, but complete degree programmes. Some MOOCs were intended for massive enrolments but have attracted only a few. With rapid developments in the MOOC world, the MOOC today may be completely different from the MOOC tomorrow and the MOOC in one country may be defined differently from one in another country, depending on the orientation of the providers and the target audiences.

Knowing that MOOCs have also caught the attention of European university leaders, national policymakers and those in EU institutions, the upcoming ACA European Policy Seminar – Making Sense of the MOOCs – seeks to unpack the concept of MOOCs, trace its developments in Europe and beyond, and to reveal the back office in the production of a MOOC with practical examples. We will also look at the geography of MOOCs and discuss whether and how MOOCs can possibly take root and blossom in Europe.

Producing MOOCs could be labour and capital intensive, although the contents are free for the learners and will probably remain so in order to continue attracting the attention of the mass. It is therefore necessary for institutional leaders to survey the changing MOOC environment, know what they are, how they could be organised and, more importantly, funded, before jumping onto the bandwagon.

As a usual practice in any ACA European Policy Seminar, we will bring together the most qualified speakers from a good mix of backgrounds to present a multidimensional picture of the subject. And we encourage open discussion, critical reflection, practical advice and friendly exchanges on this hotly debated topic.

The seminar, jointly organised with the European University Association (EUA), will be held on 10.10.2013 (Thu) in Brussels.

For this special event co-organised by ACA and EUA, we are pleased to extend the ACA members’ rate to all EUA members. More information about the fee rebate is available on the registration page.


Wednesday 9 October



Seminar dinner


Thursday 10 October



Registrations and coffee


Welcome and introduction
Bernd Wächter, Director, ACA (Brussels, Belgium)


MOOCs. An introduction
Tim Gore, Director Global Networks and Communities, University of London International (London, UK)


MOOCing higher education at home and abroad. Best practices and worst challenges.
Rolf Hoffmann, Executive Director, German-American Fulbright Commission (Berlin, Germany)


Coffee break


European MOOCs in global context
Kris Olds, Professor and Chairperson, University of Wisconsin (Madison, USA)


Funding MOOCs. Are the business models sustainable?
William Lawton, Director, Observatory on Borderless Higher Education (Redhill, UK)


MOOCs: European perspectives
Michael Gaebel, Head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, European University Association (EUA) (Brussels, Belgium)


Sandwich lunch


“Traditional” Open and Distance Learning: What is out there, how do the MOOCs fit in?
Joran van Aart, Director of Student Value, Studyportals (Eindhoven, The Netherlands)


MOOCs made in Europe: iversity
Hannes Klöpper, Managing Director, iversity GmbH (Berlin, Germany)


Coffee break


Open(ing up) Education and OpenupEd MOOCs: context and perspectives
Fred Mulder, European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) (Heerlen, The Netherlands)


MOOCs at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
Karl Aberer, Vice-President for Information Systems, EPFL (Lausanne, Switzerland)


Student-faculty interaction in the MOOC environment
Daniel McFarland, Associate Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Education (online) (Stanford, USA)


Conclusions and farewell
Lesley Wilson, Director, EUA (Brussels Belgium)


Bernd Wächter

Bernd Wächter is the Director of the Academic Cooperation Association (ACA). He studied at the universities of Hull (UK), Giessen and Marburg (Germany). His career has been focused on international higher education. He worked for the University of Kassel, the British Council, and the Fachhochschule Darmstadt, before joining The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) as the head of their EU division. He subsequently became the director for Higher Education (Erasmus) in the Brussels Socrates Office. In 1998, he took up his present post as ACA Director.

Bernd Wächter has published and lectured widely on international higher education. He is the editor of the ACA Papers on International Cooperation in Education. He has been the team leader of ACA’s research projects and speaks frequently at major governmental and stakeholder conferences, in Europe and beyond, on the issue of mobility and internationalisation.  

Bernd Wächter has two children. He is married to Thora Magnusdottir, a delightful lady from Iceland.

Tim Gore

Tim Gore OBE is Director, Global Networks and Communities for the University of London International Programmes which is a unique and historic system of distance and flexible learning with 52,000 students in over 180 countries. Tim’s main role is the development of the networks and communities of stakeholders that are crucial to reputation and brand of the International Programmes. As such he oversees planning and implementation of worldwide communications and marketing campaigns; the development of a global network of over 100 independent institutions; relationships with in-country stakeholders such as regulators and employers; and the alumni network.

He was previously the Director of the Centre for Indian Business, the University of Greenwich where his role was to engage the University of Greenwich’s intellectual capital with India and to create sustainable and mutually beneficial partnerships.  The University’s India strategy won a prestigious THE Leadership and Management award for best international strategy.  

Tim held a number of senior leadership roles with the British Council working closely with educationalists, institutions, companies and governments to improve bilateral and multilateral educational links in Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and India over his career.  His work has included leading the establishment of the British University in Dubai; and developing the £26 million UK India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) which established over 200 educational partnerships between the two countries.  He was awarded the OBE in 2008.

Tim is an active writer, researcher and speaker on a wide range of higher education subjects including international strategy; reputation and risk; transnational education; online and flexible delivery; MOOCs and student experience. He is pursuing a doctorate in business administration (DBAHEM) at the University of Bath focussing on higher education management. He also holds two masters as an applied linguist and in business administration. He speaks Arabic and French.

Rolf Hoffmann

Rolf Hoffmann is Executive Director of the German-American Fulbright Commission in Berlin since 2004 and serves as a higher education and marketing expert for many national and international agencies in Europe. Since 1985 he served in different senior positions in academic and international exchange institutions, among them the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation and the German Academic Exchange Service and gained extensive experience in higher education policy, internationalization and program management. In 2001 he was appointed Director of Germany’s new International Marketing Initiative, a joint effort of the Federal Government, the universities and DAAD for the international promotion of study and research in Germany, and headed the first German university marketing consortium GATE Germany with more than 100 member institutions. He holds a doctorate in zoology  from the University of Tübingen and did his Ph.D research as a graduate student at Duke University.

Kris Olds

Kris Olds is Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Olds’ research focuses on the globalization of the services industries (including higher education, architecture, property) and their relationship to urban and regional change. He has played a variety of strategic service roles for UW-Madison, as well as for organizations including the OECD, NAFSA, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the International Association of Universities, and the Association of Commonwealth Universities. He is currently developing a MOOC (Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’) with Professor Susan L. Robertson (University of Bristol, UK).

William Lawton

William (Bill) Lawton is Director of the Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, based near London. The Observatory is an independent higher education research and monitoring unit. It is part of the International Graduate Insight Group (i-graduate), which itself is part of Tribal Group plc. The Observatory disseminates information and analysis on trends, policy frameworks, and the full range of international higher education activities at both institutional and governmental levels around the world. Its core purpose is to provide data and analysis for institutional leaders and policy-makers so that they may shape their institutional strategies successfully to the changing landscape in international higher education

Bill is from Newfoundland and has lived and worked in the UK since 1987. He was a founding member of the UK HE International Unit from 2007 until 2010. Before that, Bill worked at the Canadian High Commission in London, as a political analyst on UK devolution and latterly as Head of Academic Relations. In the 1990s he taught politics at the University of Hull. His PhD is from the University of Edinburgh.

Bill and his team focus on aspects of transnational education. They have recently conducted research for Pearson (on online education), the UK government (on MOOCs), and a UK university (on a branch campus). They have recently concluded a project on the use of agents in international student recruitment and in 2012 published a survey report on international branch campuses.

Michael Gaebel

Michael Gaebel is the Head of the Higher Education Policy Unit, which focuses on learning and teaching and internationalisation at the European University Association (EUA). The organisation represents more than 800 higher education institutions and national rectors’ conferences.

Before joining EUA in 2006, Michael worked for more than a decade in higher education cooperation and development in the Middle East, the former Soviet Union and Asia.

Hannes Klöpper

Hannes Klöpper is the co-founder of iversity, a Berlin-based higher education startup. He recently co-authored a book on the university in the 21st century in collaboration with Professor Yehuda Elkana, a distinguished philosopher of science. In 2010/11 he was an associate at the stiftung neue verantwortung working on a project that explored impact of digitalization on education. He holds a Dual-Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and a B.A. in International Relations from the Technische Universität Dresden. Moreover, he spent a semester at SciencesPo Strasbourg and completed the Academy Year programme at the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin.

Joran van Aart

Joran van Aart is Director of Student Value at StudyPortals. He is responsible for its product innovation and marketing, coordinating the design and promotion of innovative online study choice services, including a pan-European resource on scholarships and a popular student experiences platform. He helped growing StudyPortals from 8 to its current 40 employees and recently coordinated the development of This new study choice portal was launched by European Commissioner Vassiliou and helps students from anywhere in the world to find and compare their online and distance learning opportunities.

Joran holds an M.Sc. in Industrial Design and worked at a premier design firm in Melbourne, Australia, resulting in a worldwide patented invention. He also worked with the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey and published several articles in the field of design and sociology. He is author of a report on key influencers of international student satisfaction in Europe.

Fred Mulder

Fred Mulder is holder of a UNESCO chair in OER (Open Educational Resources) at the Open Universiteit in the Netherlands (OUNL). Previously, until the end of 2010, he was OUNL Rector for more than a decade. He is actively involved in OER initiatives and policies at the national level, by UNESCO, the OECD, and the EU, as well as the European and global organisations of Open Universities and the like, EADTU and ICDE. Mulder has been on the Executive Committee of EADTU in 2002-2011 and currently is chairing its Taskforce on OER and Open Education, which in April 2013 launched – jointly with the European Commission – OpenupEd, the first pan-European MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) initiative. Since September 2012 he is leading the Global OER Graduate Network, a worldwide OER research initiative. In 2012, he was awarded the ICDE Individual Prize of Excellence for his work on OER. For his efforts in the area of Lifelong Learning he received a Royal decoration in 2007.

Karl Aberer

Karl Aberer is a full professor for Distributed Information Systems at EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland, since 2000. His research interests are on decentralization and self-organization in information systems with applications in peer-to-peer search, semantic web, trust management and mobile and sensor networks.

Karl Aberer received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1991 from the ETH Zürich. From 1991 to 1992 he was postdoctoral fellow at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1992 he joined the Integrated Publication and Information Systems institute (IPSI) of GMD in Germany, where he was leading the research division Open Adaptive Information Management Systems. From 2005 to 2012 he was the director of the Swiss National Research Center for Mobile Information and Communication Systems (NCCR-MICS, Since September 2012 he is Vice-President of EPFL responsible for information systems. He is member of the editorial boards of VLDB Journal, ACM Transaction on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems and World Wide Web Journal. He has also been consulting for the Swiss government in research and science policy as a member of the Swiss Research and Technology Council (SWTR) from 2004 to 2011.

Daniel McFarland

Dr. Daniel A. McFarland studies the social dynamics that surround and constitute educational systems. He is the lead investigator of the Mimir Project whose objective it is to study interdisciplinarity and scientific innovation at Stanford and academe more generally.

Dr. McFarland graduated from the University of Chicago in 1993 with a BA in philosophy. He continued on at the University of Chicago and in 1995 and 1999 acquired an MA and PhD in sociology. Dan has been involved in a variety of interdisciplinary collaborations with linguists and computer scientists at Stanford, and has been involved in methodological advances concerning social network dynamics and topic modeling. Dan’s work on the Mimir Project has resulted in a variety of papers that demonstrate how Stanford’s creation of super-centers like BioX is transforming the modern research university to have a more adaptive, matrix-form of organization that arises from bridging the traditional departmental structure of the university with interdisciplinary team science. He has also been engaged in projects that identify when and where scientific innovations arise and spread within the academy, and how interdisciplinarity is playing an important role in driving such innovation.

Dan is currently engaged in a variety of other projects: a comparative study of intellectual social movements in computer science; the study of an emerging transdiciplinary domain in prematurity; NSF work on how social network communities vary and evolve; and analyses of network formation through talk and text using computational linguistics. Dan also has taught the world’s largest course in organizational analysis (a massive open online course to over 80,000 registrants).

Lesley Wilson

Lesley Wilson joined EUA at its creation in 2001 and formally took over as Secretary General in 2002. Previous to this, she held a number of senior positions in higher education and research management at European level, in particular as Director of UNESCO’s European Centre for Higher Education in Bucharest (UNESCO-CEPES) from 1995 to late 1999, Head of the newly established Science Policy Unit at the European Science Foundation in Strasbourg (1994/1995) and Director of the EC TEMPUS Office in Brussels from 1990 to 1994.

A graduate of the University of Glasgow and the Institut des Hautes Etudes Européennes at the University of Strasbourg, she spent her early career as a scientific staff member of the German Science Council in Cologne before moving to Brussels in 1988 to join the newly established ERASMUS Bureau.


Federation of Enterprises in Belgium asbl/vzw

Rue Ravenstein 4
B – 1000 Brussels (Belgium)
Tel: +32 2 515 08 11
Fax: +32 2 515 09 15
E-mail: info(at)