Online English course attracts 100,000 students

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent

  • Published
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A third of the students are using mobile phones to follow the course

More than 100,000 people have signed up for a single online course providing English language lessons.

It is the British Council's first experiment with so-called Moocs, or massive open online courses, which deliver tuition free of charge.

Spain, Burma and Russia are among the countries with the biggest number of students taking the six-week course.

The British Council is claiming this as one of the biggest English language learning classes in the world.

More than a third of these language students are following the course through their mobile phones.

The online course has "tapped into the global demand" for learning English, said Sara Pierson, the British Council's head of English partnerships.

"English is spoken at a useful level by one in four people worldwide - and we know that even more people all over the world want to learn English," she said.

The first wave of Mooc courses saw some of the world's top universities putting hundreds of courses online, particularly in the United States.

There are university courses which have acquired very large followings, with some attracting more than 200,000 students.

Global class

But a number of other organisations have begun to produce online courses - and the British Council has launched its pioneering English lessons with FutureLearn, the major UK-based online-course provider.

"Learners are taking the course from countries like Burma and Algeria, where internet penetration is relatively low, yet the appetite for learning English is clearly thriving," said FutureLearn's Kathryn Skelton.

It has attracted students from 178 countries, with Spain accounting for the single biggest group of students. The UK is in the top 10, and there are also large groups from Colombia, China, Vietnam and India.

An analysis of those taking the course, which uses video and online tutors, shows that female students outnumber male students by more than two to one.

For almost three-quarters, this is the first time they have studied using an online course.

Students are most likely to be graduates and under the age of 35. The single biggest group of learners are teachers.

There is no fee for taking the course and no exam at the end but students can get a "statement of participation".

In the US, one of the most influential Mooc providers has been edX, set up by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

This began with free university courses, but this term, edX has launched a set of 26 online courses aimed at secondary schools.

They include subjects such as maths, science, English and history and are available to pupils anywhere with an internet connection.