iversity: The Story Behind

Managing directors of iversity: Hannes Klöpper and Sander Nijssen

Author: Stefan Alijevikj
Pictures copyright: Na’ama Landau

iversity.org emerged as a platform for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that back in October 2013 launched the first semester with 10 courses and in total 115,000 registered users. MOOCs today offer unprecedented opportunities for students and professors alike. The team of iversity believes that open courses can make a difference by enabling students from all over the world to take courses from professors all over the world. Conversely open courses enable professors to extend their reach by teaching tens of thousands of students worldwide. On behalf of iversity team, this week we have Jackie Peterson who answers to our question and tells the story of how it all began:

Mladiinfo: What’s the story behind the iversity platform? Can you tell us how the whole idea started to develop and grew into a real-time initiative? 

Jackie Peterson: “Back in 2008, iversity’s co-founders Jonas Liepmann and Hannes Klöpper were working independently on digital projects in the education sector. Both were unsatisfied by the digital infrastructure in use in the German university system. Jonas went on to develop a learning platform concept that enabled universities to exchange and cooperate via online research groups, a concept that was awarded seed funding from the EXIST-Start-up grant. Jonas began to build his platform, iversity. At the same time, Hannes and some friends had the idea to make lectures available online within an online social network.

All Team (copyright Na'ama Landau)
iversity – all team, picture copyright: Na’ama Landau 

Hannes and Jonas joined forces in 2011 and began to raise funding. iversity became an official company (“GmbH”) with the financial support of BFB Frühphasenfonds and bmp media investors. In the winter semester of 2011, iversity went online as a Learning Management System (LMS). This was the same time that Sebastian Thrun, Peter Norvig, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller started their experimental open online courses in the US, which attracted over 250,000 online learners from virtually every corner of the globe.

After the success of open online courses in the US, iversity decided to become a European-based MOOC provider. As the New York Times proclaimed 2012 the “Year of the MOOC”, investments from T-Venture, a venture capital subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, and the business angels Masoud Kamali and Marcus Riecke, allowed the MOOC phenomenon to come to Europe. 15 October 2013 was the big day: The first semester launched with its first 10 courses and 115,000 registered users.”

Marketing and PR (copyright Na'ama Landau)
iversity marketing and PR team, picture copyright: Na’ama Landau 

Mladiinfo: Who was the most enthusiastic in your team to push things forward and to make iversity happen real-time?

Jackie Peterson: “I know it sounds sappy, but really, our whole team pushes iversity forward. Besides Hannes Klöpper, as our co-founder and edtech industry expert, being the father so-to-speak of iversity, we cannot single out one single enthusiastic individual. Every department plays an important role and we rely heavily on one another to do their job. Our team is as diverse as our online learning community – didactics experts, political scientists and physicists work alongside computer programmers and economists. We are young edtech enthusiasts, lifelong learners and love to experiment: we test out which technologies and didactic methods work best in online education. Really, if we don’t have a team that works together towards the same mission and honestly believes in the product we are developing, iversity would get nowhere.”

Mladiinfo: iversity features MOOCs for all fields of interests and for users from all sort of backgrounds. Is there any specific field to which users are most interested?

Jackie Peterson: “Courses attract students based on skills they offer and what skills the online learner wants to develop – and as you already mention in your question, we have a very diverse user base, and their needs and interests are diverse as well. As a whole, all our courses attract thousands of students – each offering a topic that is interesting to a wide audience.

But to give you a little more to work with, our most popular course to date is “Future of Storytelling”, which attracted over 90,000 students and still attracting more even after the course stopped running. “Design 101” was also a successful course with over 40,000 enrollments. The Design 101 instructors exhibited the best works created in the course at an art gallery in Berlin, which also attracted a lot of attention. Both courses seemed to attract people who were interested in pursuing a creative outlet out of personal interest. That said, however, storytelling is an important skill for screen writers, marketers, even politicians. Design is also a necessary skill in innumerable industries, such as interior decoration, architecture, product design, fashion, marketing etc.

Product dev team (copyright Na'ama Landau)
Product development team, picture copyright: Na’ama Landau 

But it is hard to say which field are truly most interesting for our users. Creative courses certainly spark a lot of interest, but other more science or math-based courses, such our “Vehicle Dynamics” series, “Modelling and Simulation using MATLAB®” and “Monte Carlo Methods in Finance” reached between 30,000 and 50,000 enrolments.

Regarding our upcoming new courses, “Public Speaking”, “Critical Thinking – Reason and Fair Play in Communication” and “Idea Generation Methods”, which perhaps attract young entrepreneurs, are already reaching high enrollment numbers.”

Mladiinfo: What does students say for iversity? How do they find the initiative?

Jackie Peterson: “It is hard to speak for our users because they are so diverse. They all have their own motivations and initiatives to take and finish a course. On a whole, we get a lot of great feedback: people are happy that they can take a course online from the other side of the world – and for free, of course.

We are happy to see the comments, for instance user Katy from Canada has shared: I found iversity’s Design 101 course to be truly engaging. Many thanks to iversity, the teachers, and my dear classmates. Owais from Pakistan has shared: The best part is that you can learn from world’s best instructors and you do not need to travel at all. My experience has been phenomenal. Or Leopold from Portugal who has written the following: Very good, love it. I made 2 courses in the last 3 months – Design Thinking and The Do School Startup Lab – and they made a real difference to my career and for my personal development.”

video editing (copyright Na'ama Landau)
Video editing, picture copyright: Na’ama Landau 

Mladiinfo: iversity is a platform for e-learning, and in the mean time the educational paradigms are shifting towards m-learning (or learning from mobile devices). Do you see iversity developing in this direction?

Jackie Peterson: “Of course, a mobile app is certainly on our list! Can’t make any promises as to when, however.”

Mladiinfo: What is your advice for the students who are  following and nurturing their knowledge and skills from the MOOCs featured at iversity?

Jackie Peterson: “First, I would recommend that they keep in mind that a course’s given weekly workload is comparable to that at a traditional university: 3-4 hours a week. I would create a schedule for myself. Of course, the beauty of online courses is that you engage with the course material whenever and wherever you want, but if you don’t want to fall behind, it is wise to schedule your study hours for the week. Second, I would encourage you to get involved in the discussion forums. The more you engage with others, the more fun, informative and interesting it becomes. This may help motivate you to stay active. Last, of course, have fun! There is so much to choose from, and if you are having trouble deciding which course to take, at least let yourself explore the courses until you find something that strikes you.”

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