Google gets into online learning with open-source Course Builder software

Google Course Builder

Considering that Google’s Director of Research Peter Norvig and Google X founder Sebastian Thrun co-taught one of the massive online Stanford classes that gave momentum to the recent surge in online learning, it’s probably not surprising that the search giant itself is now staking out a spot in education’s latest frontier.

After running its own online course, Power Searching with Google, the company is releasing the technology it used to offer the class as open-source Course Builder software.

In a blog post, Norvig said:

The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education. It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction. We hope to continue development along these lines, but we wanted to make this limited code base available now, to see what early adopters will do with it, and to explore the future of learning technology.

Google, which supports education through its Google in Education initiative, is speaking with the team at edX (the open source education collaboration between Harvard and MIT), he said, adding that other universities, including Stanford, Indiana University and a group of universities in Spain, are considering how they could adopt the technology.

Startups like Udemy already give aspiring teachers an online platform for building their own courses on everything from coding and app development to literature and languages (and it allows them to make money from the courses if they choose).  Codecademy also gives people simple tools for creating online courses on programming.

But while Google’s platform is open to anyone with basic technical knowledge, it seems more geared toward those in institutions. In his post, Norvig said, “We believe Google’s preliminary efforts here may be useful to those looking to scale online education through the cloud.”

Universities are increasingly partnering with online education startups like Coursera, Udacity (which was co-founded by Thrun) and 2tor but, as more schools look to expand their presence online, Google’s new tool could be a way to help them do that.

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