Blog Post

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

Considering that Google’s (s GOOG) 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.

8 Responses to “Google gets into online learning with open-source Course Builder software”

  1. Linda Harasim

    Tahiya, I think that you are hitting a KEY issue that is the major problem for online education, whether using commercial “LMS” or open source. Educators do NOT have the technical expertise to create an online learning environment and computer scientists do not have the knowledge or humility to acknowledge that they are not Masters of the Universe. When it comes to education, they believe profoundly that it is an issue of coding and finding ways to transmit the content. In particular, the cognitivists among them are still gripped by the belief that AI is the answer to everything, as we see in such ventures as COursera, MOOCs, Udacity, etc.

    So much ego, so little knowledge about learning.

    I have been in online education since 1983, and have also led major research projects in online learning worth ten of millions of dollars, in which I funded online learning activities in 32 universities in Canada. The engineers and computer scientists were hell bent on their solutions, altho we did get some interesting results when computer scientists worked collaboratively with learning researchers.

    Online education can be a wonderful new environment to support effective and exciting learning, learning communities, knowledge communities, and innovation. But we need to form alliances between the innovators and collaborators in computer science and in learning research.

    That will be a terrific advance in the world of learning.

    wrt SCORM, hell no! That is based on 1950s learning theory and is related to courseware, information transmission, and teaching without teachers. It is a US army hang up, and deals with control not education.


  2. OY! More subject matter experts, or self-styled subject matter experts who think they can teach will create a bunch of lousy instruction and make everyone think online learning is bad. Blerg!!

  3. Azarias Reda

    I think this could evolve as C-Tools did, where universities take it and start developing it on their own. For universities that are large enough, it is often worth it to build the platform for themselves, rather than depend on someone else’s platform.

  4. I was excited about this until I read that their idea of “basic technical expertise” means the ability to program in Javascript. Oh, well. Guess they’re just targeting techies who want to share their skills in an online course. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just find it disappointing. Most course developers do not know the first thing about Javascript.

    • There is something terrible about that. Teaching and instructional design cannot be done well by people who don’t know what they are doing. It doesn’t matter how expert you are in your subject. It doesn’t make you an instructional designer.