Free online learning platform Alison.com is sponsoring this year’s eLearning Africa Conference. Founder Mike Feerick shares his vision for the company which has over 23 million learners, 4 million graduates and more than 4,000 courses and is having a positive impact on millions of lives across Africa.
MOOCs are having a moment, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Massive Open Online Course platforms, like Alison.com, are breaking through the frontiers of education as we’ve always known it, and creating a completely new landscape. In the case of Alison, that means empowering millions of learners worldwide to improve their lives through education – for free.
The for-profit social enterprise was founded by Mike Feerick in 2007. Feerick, who is a keynote speaker at the conference, is as full of pioneering zeal as he was when he first launched the company in Galway, Ireland. His vision for a platform where education is accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time, remains as revolutionary as ever. To date, over 23 million learners, including 7 million in Africa, have enjoyed equal access to education and skill development for free with Alison.com.
“If you are going to spend your professional life doing something, it’s most exciting if there is real soul to what you do and enabling and empowering people still excites me,” he said. “The big picture is addressing the issue of physical poverty worldwide. There is no doubt, if you make education freely available to everyone that basic levels of physical poverty can be addressed.”
In Alison’s case, that means providing a swathe of courses teaching everything from basic English to university standard courses along with practical, skills-based subjects and trades. This year, the company has teamed up with the Mobile Education Alliance to create courses to support digital literacy in Africa and beyond.
“Only 8% of the world’s population have ever gone to traditional college. It is no wonder that we have skill shortages across the world,” says Feerick. “However, traditional college is too slow, expensive and out of date today. People need to learn now, and they can. We at Alison can empower anyone at any time to learn valuable skills for the workplace for free, to enable them to get employment, be promoted, or start their own businesses. Education is no longer the domain of the wealthy, it is open to all, once you have the motivation and determination to spend the time learning. Improving digital literacy skill is one of the first steps in this journey.”
Feerick is looking forward to his visit to Rwanda and is planning a road trip through Eastern Africa doing one of his favorite things – meeting Alison learners.
“Over four weeks, I will be traveling by road across Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. My goal is to hear as many stories as possible from Alison graduates about how they came to Alison, what they studied, and how free study helped empower them in the workplace or through personal development. I want to listen to their advice on how we might develop Alison services further, to assist them further in their careers, and also assist those in their community to upskill and develop themselves through our free online services. Hundreds of Alison graduates have responded to our call. I’ll endeavor to meet as many as possible, as I did on previous trips to Nigeria and South Africa.”
He is also interested in meeting with local educators, trainers, and policy makers relating to workplace skills training and empowerment.
The Alison team, including members from Africa and Ireland, will also be running workshops during the eLearning Africa conference in Kigali and are excited about meeting learners, instructors, schools and businesses and discussing the Diploma and Certificate courses, career development tools, how you can earn and learn with Alison or how you can empower your business.
If it’s anything like his recent trip to meet Alison staff and learners in Pakistan, there will be many new connections to celebrate.
“What amazes me about going to countries like Pakistan is how many bright and highly motivated people there are all around the world. As a wise person once said, talent is everywhere, it is just that opportunity is not. Alison is working on breaking down these barriers to opportunity,” Feerick added.
While the HQ remains in Ireland, the company now employs more than 200 people across Africa, India, Pakistan, Europe and the USA who look after the technological needs of the platform, monitor standards, market the courses and so on. The courses are provided by subject matter experts who can choose to self-publish or take the assisted publisher route, and pay a small fee to have their course created in-house. In each case, Alison’s team curate the courses, make sure that they are well structured pedagogically and adhere to the company’s standards. They also provide marketing support.
While there are courses from major establishments, such as Stanford and Cambridge, among the 4,000 plus available on the platform, ex-Harvard man Feerick believes in empowering individuals to step up and share their expertise too. “There must be millions of subject matter experts in the world who would love to create a course and tap into an income stream,” he says.
While traditional education is a slow-moving beast, in the world of eLearning, nothing stays the same for long. This past year has seen a number of exciting developments at Alison. The company launched its app in May 2021 and has rapidly clocked up well over one million users and a 4.8 star rating. It has also launched an app for its Workplace Personality Assessment. This popular psychometric test has been completed by over 100,000 users. More recently, it has also teamed up with healthcare provider Welliba to host the Welliba Workplace Wellbeing Survey. Finally, just last month, the entire platform was rebranded and now boasts a streamlined, easy to navigate experience.
The focus on empowerment is reflected in the strong careers guidance on the platform, and new features in development include a resume builder, to further support learners to progress in their chosen field, and hubs where learners can easily navigate interconnected courses and find out more about a given subject or get inspiration for new directions.
The profits generated by the company come from advertising, from premium account holders and from the sale of certificates which people can opt to purchase on successfully completing a course. It has recently launched an Affiliate programme where learners can earn as they learn by referring their friends and family to the site.
While it is gratifying running a successful and growing business, Feerick never loses sight of his vision of empowering people to achieve their full potential. Alison’s YouTube channel is peppered with comments testifying to the difference the platform is making to the lives of people like musician Godfrey Ssentongo who wrote: “You’ve really helped us who lost our parents at 3yrs and couldn’t have any qualifications if it wasn’t for your initiative.”
Stay up to date with Mike Feerick and his team as they travel through Eastern Africa, meeting learners along the way. Follow their journey on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, lnstagram and the Alison Blog on alison.com.