OER14 homeApplication › Mr Nick Jeans

Case study on ALISON (Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online: alison.com)

Monday 11:30-13:00 (2), Marlborough Suite

Type: Short paper

Theme: MOOCs and open courses

http://www.poerup.info/ #oer14 #abs71


Nick Jeans, Senior Consultant in Learning Technology, Sero Consulting Ltd, [email protected]
Bieke Schreurs, Open Universiteit Nederland, [email protected]


This on-going study arose from an EU-funded programme, ‘POERUP’ – Policies for OER Uptake (http://www.poerup.info/). The programme, which has research partners in several EU countries, was looking for initiatives across all sectors. Outside the Higher Education sector, where OER is less prevalent, ALISON is an increasingly significant player in the provision of free online courses for Further and Adult Education. So, although its resources are not open in the sense of being copyright-free and easy to re-purpose, it seemed important to include ALISON in the research.

The ALISON model relies on advertising to pay for the provision, using Google’s pay-per-click system, where Google pays ALISON whenever a learner clicks on an advertisement. From slow beginnings in 2007, ALISON has now signed up more than two million students to more than 500 online courses. It's adding another 200,000 each month and founder Mike Feerick is confident this expansion could accelerate even more rapidly and reach a billion students towards the end of the decade (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24711245). Based in Ireland, it is the FE equivalent to the much-heralded Khan Academy in the US, which is aimed more at secondary schools. The 600 courses on offer range from touch typing, to English grammar to Diplomas in Business and Finance. In contrast to the uncertainty over the future of MOOCs (particularly with regard to Udacity) ALISON, which has never received public funding, seems to have sound financial prospects. It has just won a prestigious international award at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Qatar, as well as a UNESCO Award for Innovation in ICT for Education.

The research involves recorded interviews with ALISON staff, co-developers, partners and students, as well as an online survey developed by the Open University of the Netherlands and distributed to all those involved with the for-profit social enterprise.

Since the research is on-going, it is too early to detail the findings at this stage, though they will be complete by the time of the conference, at which point we will present the results of the research. However early indications are that ALISON is certainly a development that is worthy of serious consideration and is likely to grow in importance over the coming years, expanding into school and university-level provision.

The discussion following the presentation will invite responses to the results and explore the implications. There is, for instance, a concern that ALISON may squeeze out other providers and become the default provider of vocational education, in the same way as Amazon is for shopping. The model is, however, simple enough for others to follow and there are certainly aspects of its provision that could be improved upon.


BBC. (October 2013). The next big education player? BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24711245. [Accessed 26 November 2013].
The Economist. (July 2013). Army of free online resources threaten higher education. The Economist. Available from: http://www.economist.com/news/business/21582001-army-new-online-courses-scaring-wits-out-traditional-universities-can-they. [Accessed 26 November 2013].
Edxusgroup.com. (June 2013). ALISON named one of Europe's most innovative e-learning companies. Available from: http://edxusgroup.com/europes-20-fastest-growing-and-most-innovative-e-learning-companies-named-2/. [Accessed 26 November 2013].
Harvard University. (June 2013). Bulletin training the global workforce. Gratis. Available from: https://www.alumni.hbs.edu/stories/Pages/story-bulletin.aspx?num=2467. [Accessed 26 November 2013].
New York Times. (July 2012). Open education for a global economy. New York Times. Available from: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/11/open-education-for-a-global-economy/?_r=3. [Accessed 26 November 2013].

Funding acknowledgements

EU Lifelong Learning Programme under Key Activity 3 ICT


Further details

Keywords: Further Education, Adult Education, Free learning, Online Learning

Website: http://www.poerup.info/

Mr Nick Jeans, Senior Consultant in Learning Technology, Sero Consulting Ltd

Twitter: @ncjeans

Twitter abstract: Short paper on how ALISON works with over 2m students on more than 500 free online courses adding 200k each month