The oldest online University

Millennials, and not only, take lessons from professors on the web, sharpened by corporate leaders' contributions, to obtain real degrees from the most prestigious universities.

Mar 2019

The Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Sicily Frederick II of Swabia was the first sovereign in history to found a secular university in 1224. He did it because he wanted to prepare the court for leadership positions, and to promote the cultural education of his people. He founded it in Naples, a city where the Federico II (Italian name for Frederick) University still represents the core of academic education in southern Italy. 

Almost eight centuries later, from the same university and the same city, the first Italian On Line Education platform, appropriately called, was launched. Federica's innovative teaching tool is the Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC): "We've been working on this project for 11 years, producing all the content in-house thanks to a team of Graphic Designers and Media Specialists who support the teachers," says Mauro Calise - Professor of Political Science, Publisher and Director of Federica - welcoming us to the headquarters of the Federica Weblearning Center, overlooking the stunning Castel dell'Ovo castle.

MOOCs are online courses open to everyone, that cover a wide range of topics: from humanities to science, from law to medicine and much more (art, literature, business, marketing, etc.). The content is available entirely on the web and includes video lessons, multimedia insights, immediate links and feedback with teachers and even contributions from experts and speakers from the business world.

"MOOC give the chance to learn and access education from anywhere in Italy or the world, even where there are obstacles due to economic and social conditions: it's the University's Third Mission"

Synergy between company and university has always been of basic importance for Avio Aero and, in fact, the Italian business of GE Aviation boasts a networking policy affecting research, technical-scientific cooperation and even teaching with numerous national and international universities. In this context, the collaboration with Federica has been an exciting novelty. It is distinguished for its digital nature and involves the Avio Aero Chief Information Officer, Francesco Del Greco in a lecture on Industry 4.0.

Del Greco, a guest in the video lecture by Professor Biagio Palumbo, contributed to Federica's Industry 4.0 course with respect to Big Data and Analytics. This lesson focuses on industrial applications, explaining how data is collected and processed within the company to make decisions in industry and the aeronautical market. "I've been working with Avio Aero since 2006. I followed about thirty theses and after graduation about 35% of the thesis students were hired at Pomigliano or Rivalta plants," says Palumbo. “I believe that the direct involvement of company representatives as teachers of courses with the aim of making the content more professional, for example, soft skills, can be successful. The comparison between companies and scientific communities is strategic for common growth.”

Palumbo is Professor of Statistics for Experimental and Technological Research at the Department of Industrial Engineering of the Federico II. He teaches Statistics for Technology as part of the new Advanced Manufacturing oriented training course, the result of an educational initiative developed by Avio Aero with Federico II in the Master's Degree Course in Mechanical Engineering for Design and Production.

His collaboration with the company has always been oriented towards statistical methods for quality and innovation in the engineering field. This time, however, the uniqueness of the collaboration lies in the fact that a professional in the aeronautical sector tackles the issue of the digital industrial revolution in a university course hosted on the web. And this endorses and fully sustains Federica's revolutionary mission towards traditional university.

"Federica has 80,000 official members, and about 5 million accesses per year: it is in the top-five European educational programs," continues the director, Professor Calise. "The difference with distance learning or the private telematic university is clear: our teachers are active university professors in Italian universities, and the level of content of each course is extremely advanced. It reflects intense international research activity."

The MOOCs provided by the universities are designed for a wide and heterogeneous audience of users. They are not only aimed at the Millennials, a generation connected 24 hours a day. They are open to the curious minds of all kinds, backgrounds and ages: thus university higher education also extends to recent graduates and professionals. It is easily accessible and the variety of courses is impressive: 150 courses, 5,000 lessons and even 4 degree courses (Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Business Administration and Tourism Sciences), completely free of charge. The formula is called Freemium, you can attend and benefit from the courses. To sit the exams, you have to enroll at the university normally.

"MOOCs also represent a significant contribution to the University's Third Mission: they provide the opportunity to learn and access education from anywhere in Italy or the world, even where there are obstacles due to economic and social conditions," explains Calise.

The cultural prejudice, which still sees distance education as a second-class alternative to traditional education, could perhaps concern the commercial telematic university or student recovery platforms. MOOCs, on the other hand, are an avant-garde option that is now well established with over one hundred million learners.

MOOC are open to the curious minds of all kinds, backgrounds and ages:150 courses, 5,000 lessons and even 4 degree courses that arre completely free of charge.

This is proven by the elite of higher education, institutions such as EdX (which also distributes Federica's courses) or Coursera.  The first one is a non-profit online education institution, founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University. Coursera has 30 million members and was founded by the computer science professors at Stanford University. On their own, these platforms involve a hundred universities around the world, including The Sorbonne of Paris, Georgetown, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, Technical University of Munich, and Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Stanford opened the route for the MOOCs as a successful international model: open to all, but without lowering academic standards. For example, the Mathematics for Machine Learning course, recently launched by Imperial College, has more than one hundred thousand students, all of whom are able to evaluate their skills and strengths free of charge. In the end, only a few thousand will graduate.

In the coming years, learning will be increasingly mixed, extending to the entire working life, and by 2030 the professional profiles will be completely transformed: many existing jobs will disappear. It is desirable to rethink also the way we prepare for such future working world.

Cover image is courtesy of Federico II University