The British Council, one of the oldest and most respected names in English as a Second Language education, has announced that it will partner with online course provider FutureLearn to develop a Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) designed to teach English to non-native speakers. While such an announcement may at first glance seem surprising, further examination reveals how this development fits into the now 80-year-old organization’s continuing mission to promote intercultural relations and educational opportunities between the United Kingdom’ and the rest of the world.
The fact that educational heavyweights like Yale University now provide content to the world’s leading MOOC provider, US-based Coursera (which itself has raised $85 million in capital from investors in order to further its digital efforts) reveals that MOOCs are becoming an increasingly important part of the educational landscape. Nevertheless this marks the first time that a major MOOC provider will offer language courses.
Continuing Its Mission
What, then, does the British Council hope to gain from its efforts? Well, in a nutshell it sees ESL MOOCs as a way to further its ongoing efforts to attract international students to universities in the United Kingdom. It believes that ESL MOOCs can directly reinforce the British Council’s existing efforts to help non-native English speakers prepare for the rigors of English-language higher education. Such preparation courses are a natural fit with its existing the International English Language Testing System [IELTS] assessments, an exam which it co-owns with the Australian-based IDP Education and is already offered at British Council testing centers around the world. Proof of this plan can be found in the simple fact that the two UK-based organizations announced their partnership in India. In this light the news, though exciting, can be seen as an integral part of the British Council’s existing student readiness and recruitment process.