About the Project

This project is one of the 2013 WISE Awards winners.

Alison is transforming global online learning through its free interactive multimedia basic education and workplace skills training courses with certification. Alison is a for-profit social enterprise and one of the world’s most popular free learning websites providing over 3,500 free courses, to 21 million registered learners the world over with over four million graduates of its courses. 

Using open source infrastructure, Alison focuses services on the marginalized and on “employability”. The majority of its learners are located in developing countries or the unemployed, young, elderly, or emigrants in developed countries. Users include thousands of businesses, schools, and universities as well as individuals. 

All learning, assessment, and certification is free and offered at Certificate and Diploma level. Alison provides an innovative test system where an employer or college can challenge an Alison graduate at any time to sit a simple online test on the course they have studied and/or the knowledge or skill level the holder professes to hold. (The Alison pass mark is 80 percent.) Traditional certifications and qualifications cannot be as easily challenged or instantly verified. Relevant and quality education is at Alison’s core and courses are published in partnership with large organizations such as Microsoft and The British Council, as well as globally recognized individuals who are subject-matter experts in their field.

Context and Issue

Education is a basic human right but education and workplace skills training has been expensive and difficult to access for all. With Alison, millions can now study for free, take assessments and get certified, helping them to learn new skills, obtain new knowledge, and show competency in what they have learned, or may already know. Above all, Alison helps people become more employable, by teaching new skills or improving personal productivity. It allows people worldwide to up-skill for free and be less encumbered by personal debt as a result of their investment in education and training. The project seeks to level the playing field for hundreds of millions of workers worldwide.

Education underpins all social progress. If the general education level worldwide can be improved in a profound and scalable way, global poverty can be dealt with, and the general standard of living for all can be vastly improved. The technology is here today to revolutionize education and training. However, the opportunity and vision must be made real now. The status quo in education and training suits a lot of people who are less interested in making sure this potential is realized, and its benefits are as widely spread as possible. It is part of Alison’s mission to drive forward the opportunity of new technology and business systems to provide free education and training in every subject.

Solution and Impact

Alison has developed a simple and sustainable way of providing free learning and certification to all on any subject for free. It applies a “freemium” business model with revenues from advertising and premium services. A highly equitable aspect of this model is that when someone clicks on an advert while studying accounting in Yemen, the net income to Alison is zero. When an American in California clicks on an advert however, he or she pays for the next hundred students in Yemen – and so on. Publishers with Alison still get paid via revenue sharing. This innovative business model is highly scalable and self-funding.

Alison has twenty-one million registered learners online, four million graduates and 3,500 courses. On its website, it has over 10,000 testimonials from learners all over the world saying thank you for the positive impact it has made on their lives, in areas such as employment, college placement, and personal development. 

Future Developments

For the coming years, Alison plans to:

1. Launch a feature-set enable its website to be translated into every language worldwide using crowdsourcing. (It has 3,000 registered volunteers worldwide.)
2. Enable any subject-matter expert to self-publish their content online for free.
3. Work with governments to align content resources efficiently to national standards so populations can have a complete education and training opportunity – from grade school through high school to the workplace.

With regards to the above-mentioned steps 1 and 2, Alison already has one of the world’s largest and busiest learning platforms upon which to build this additional functionality and know-how. It needs more programming resource to speed up the process, but otherwise, is well placed to implement. With regards to step 3, Alison is currently working with the Irish Department of Education to align resources with the Irish Curriculum for all STEM subjects. Once this task is completed for Ireland, it will introduce the same framework across North America, the UK, and MENA.

May 26, 2013 (last update 08-03-2022)