Coursera, the massive open online course (Mooc) provider, has announced a deal with several leading higher education publishers in which the publishers will provide free versions of their academic textbooks to Coursera students for the duration of their course.

Lecturers and students on Moocs, which remain largely free to the thousands of students who sign up to them, have previously been restricted to material that was freely available on the internet.

Starting from 8 May, Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, Sage and Wiley will experiment with offering versions of their e-textbooks to Coursera students via a third-party online student ‘hub’ called Chegg, which already offers textbook sale and rental services.

“We recognise the importance of forging partnerships with other stakeholders in the education space in order to help students overcome barriers and evolve the way they access education,” said Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.

The scheme will mean professors teaching on all Coursera courses will be able to request access to a far broader range of material.

The pilot project also marks the first time key publishers have become actively involved in Moocs.

“Some of the books will be the full version and some will be select chapters,” explained Julia Stiglitz from Coursera’s Business Development department.

She said the agreement should benefit the publishers as Coursera has agreed to share aggregate usage data of the textbooks. The publishers will also potentially be able to tap into a new market for their books as the students who use them will be offered the opportunity to buy full versions of the e-textbooks, or associated material. Chegg will benefit should any students decide to make purchases by adding a small extra charge to the cost of the academic books.

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