The community for e-learning pioneers

Video-based learning is on the rise. Trends like massive open online courses (MOOCs) are enriching the academic curriculum. SWITCH’s e-learning-community encourages experimentation with new teaching methods – and makes it easier to find partners.

Text: Patrick Jermann, published on 02.10.2017

E-learning is a field with many dimensions – pedagogical, organisational, legal and technical. To develop appealing new courses, the university community needs to take an integrative approach to the topic and embrace best practices. Consequently, stakeholders require a national community platform where they can communicate with each other and develop ideas for groundbreaking projects.

A success story

I’m happy that the university community has succeeded in establishing a professionally organised, moderated network for e-learning experts and managers. SWITCH’s community platform,, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2018. From 2008 to 2010, I had the privilege of serving the network as Director of the Educational Technology Working Group on the strategic level. Over the course of my career, I’ve often been able to benefit from personal contacts and events, such as webinars. Coming from French-speaking Switzerland, it’s valuable for me to exchange knowledge with e-learning experts from the German-speaking part of the country. is a success story: with around 900 active members at present, the network represents over 80% of all e-learning specialists and directors at Swiss universities. What’s behind this success? One example I’d like to briefly present is particularly important to me.

EPFL in the role of MOOC pioneer

The EPFL’s Center for Digital Education (CEDE), which opened in April 2013, now enjoys an excellent reputation thanks to its MOOCs Factory. The competence centre promotes both the adoption of MOOCs within the EPFL and by EPFL partners. The primary task of the MOOCs Factory is the production of MOOCs, of which there are currently 75, with 30 more in planning and development. Over 1.8 million users have registered for EPFL MOOCs so far (as of August 2017), making EPFL one of the top 10 MOOC providers in the world.

An opportunity for innovation in teaching

For anyone familiar with learning platforms like Moodle and tutorial videos, MOOCs are nothing new from a technical standpoint. For this reason, the e-learning community had initially responded with reservation. However, I was convinced that MOOCs were a reflection of fundamentally changing teaching practices and that their potential lay elsewhere. At EPFL, we embraced the trend as an opportunity to experiment with new teaching methods and learning environments. This shifted the focus of our research to the pedagogical dimension, or, in other words, the rethinking and planning of instruction. An important part of our work today is the analysis of the data being generated within the context of the MOOC, with the goal of continuously improving digital and video-based learning environments.

Increasing activities in the community

Now it’s a topic in the community. Since 2014, the special interest group SwissMOOC at has been dealing with this issue, and I’m involved as co-director. Swissuniversities recently approved funding for the project Swiss MOOC Service, which was proposed by EPFL together with ETHZ, HES-SO, USI, and SUPSI. This will make it possible to establish a national MOOC infrastructure based on SWITCHengines and the open-source platform Open edX. All institutions are called upon to create their own MOOCs and publish them on the Swiss MOOC Service (on a trial basis). Those interested in working more intensively in this area are invited to participate in the upcoming MOOC Camp hosted by EPFL (see box).

It’s a matter of time before MOOCs and SPOCs (self-paced online courses) find their way into universities’ standard curriculum, which is why the Swiss MOOC Service will also support online exams. Another area of focus for is e-assessments. The Safe Exam Browser Consortium, which is supported by SWITCH, is making an important contribution toward developing an examination software that offers Switzerland-wide compatibility. These connections within the expert network are very valuable for progress and testify to the success of EPFL is looking forward to new partnerships for MOOC projects.

About the author
Patrick   Jermann

Patrick Jermann

After studies in Geneva and Pittsburgh Patrick Jermann joined EPFL in 2003 to coordinate e-learning projects and conduct research in the field of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Since 2013 he has been responsible for MOOCs production at the Center for Digital Education (CEDE).


MOOC Camp 2017

EPFL will be holding its second MOOC Camp at EPFL’s Center for Digital Education (CEDE) from 13 to 15 November 2017. The event is intended for university administrators, instructors and technology specialists who want to successfully plan and implement MOOC projects. Best practice solutions will be presented as well. Space is limited.

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