Bornstein, D. (2012) Open education for a global economy New York Times, July 11

I wrote earlier about ALISON, the world’s largest supplier of free online learning. This article provides a much fuller description of the work of ALISON.

I can’t help compare this free service in online vocational training that has been going on quietly and unobtrusively for several years with all the hoopla around the Stanford and MIT MOOCs.

ALISON has developed a sustainable business model that allows it to provide free, high quality, well-designed courses with high rates of completion leading to recognized qualifications in areas where there is a shortage of qualified, skilled labour. It has over a million students all round the world, including in some of the poorest countries (there are currently 200 million unemployed people globally). This is really what open educational resources should be about.

However, it’s not an elite American institution, and lacks the hubris of claiming to disrupt the existing educational systems around the world, while meeting a clearly identified need. Good for ALISON.


  1. Hi Tony,
    I hadn’t heard of ALISON prior to your post and went to their site enthusiastically – but that didn’t last long!
    The courses they offer in my subject (social work, childhood) are from my own Open University, with rather light attribution.
    The same courses (and more like them) can be studied at the OU’s OpenLearn without having to log in, and without being bombarded by advertising.
    Commentators on your previous post about ALISON had also identified the Open University source.
    Do you think ALISON make any improvements to justify recommending them rather than going to the original?
    Best wishes,

    • Good to hear from the OU, where I worked many years ago.

      You are correct – ALISON is mainly (but not exclusively) an aggregator of courses from different sources, sort of a one-stop shopping area. The added value is that they screen courses for quality, based on a set of familiar criteria, such as interaction with instructors and other students, clear structure, etc. For people from different countries who are unaware of which institutions offer quality online learning, this is particularly useful.
      They also provide a sort of LMS for instructors in colleges or vocational schools who want to coach courses around the materials. Often ALISON is used by an existing college in a developing country that does not have specialized knowledge on campus. Some courses also have online volunteer coaches.

      However, I’m not an expert on ALISON -s there anyone out there with more experience of ALISON?

  2. ALISON is a gem in the very hyped “MOOC” world providing free online courses since 2007. So much for the American “revolution” in free ed that just started basically this past year. The Europeans are well ahead of us (Irish in fact). I have used ALISON with my class of 9th graders for the 4th year in a row this year.

    Yes, advertising is displayed – but it bothers not one of my students – and the quality of the free learning is very good. If a course is on ALISON, I know its pretty good as they keep the standard high. The Certification process is so simple – yet very powerful – that is any student can be tested AT ANY TIME if they state they hold an ALISON certification.


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