Internationalizing Online Education through COIL (Collaborative Online International Learning)

JonBoardCropContributed by: Jon Rubin, Founder and  past Director of the SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (The COIL Center), Consultant to COIL-interested universities


COIL is an emerging pedagogy which re-purposes online education so that it serves a new goal – that of providing meaningful international experiences for university students. Many students will have careers in which they must work with other nationalities or with clients or partners in other countries, often at a distance or as part of virtual teams. But very few institutions teach the skills needed to be successful in this emerging workplace.

Online is Uni-Directional

Today, most online, blended and distance learning course models are uni-directional. That is, an institution, a program or a professor builds a course and makes it available to his or her students. These students can respond to the online content provided to them, but their local knowledge is usually not sought out, nor can they easily discuss their cultural perspective regarding the topics at hand because very few online courses see intercultural exchange as a goal or learning objective. Therefore, most online courses do not serve to deeply connect the world, any more than does television. Instead, they broadcast the concepts of the course producer to others – irrespective of who and where their students are. We can do more and we should do more to build true online bridges to other cultures and we can accomplish that through COIL linkages.

Traditional brick and mortar universities turn to student mobility programs like Erasmus in Europe, as a pathway to internationalize their students’ education. But most online universities and online programs lag behind, often ignoring the value of international engagement even though some of these institutions have a broadly international student body.

The COIL Model

COIL is not a technology, or a technology platform, but is a new approach to teaching and learning which provides faculty and students the ability to communicate directly and immediately with their peers far away. The COIL approach is to link a class in one country with another in a different cultural space, usually at a university abroad. The classes may be totally online or in a blended format with face-to-face sessions taking place at either or both schools while collaborative work between the groups takes place online.

The courses are always team-taught, with faculty members working with peers at their partner institutions. The COIL method promotes interactive shared coursework, emphasizing experiential learning. We first give collaborating students a chance to get to know each other, using social networking tools, and then design activities for their merged classes that require the negotiation of meaning between participating students. This is where experiential learning takes place and intercultural awareness develops. It is a cost-effective internationalization method through which institutions can meet strategic goals and internationalize their curricula.


While innovators around the world have created similar models, such as Virtual Mobility, Globally Networked Learning, Virtual Exchange and Telecollaboration, Jon Rubin created the COIL format in 2002 after returning from a Fulbright Fellowship in Belarus. He wanted his students at the State University of New York (SUNY) to interact with the students he had taught in Eastern Europe, so he created a Cross-Cultural Video production course where these students collaborated online to co-produce videos about their lives.

In 2006 Rubin was appointed Director of the SUNY COIL Center, a position he held until April 2017, when he created COIL Consulting to support other universities developing the COIL format.


At the ICDE World Conference in Toronto, on Wednesday, October 18, at 2:30pm Rubin will offer a one-hour workshop which aligns to the Emerging Pedagogies and Designs for Online Learning track. In this session, he will describe the format, present videos and animations that make its impact clear to the audience, and he will give examples of COIL courses and programs linking the USA, Mexico, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Japan, Brazil, and Turkey. He will also engage the audience in a discussion about implementing COIL at their institutions.

At 10:30am Wednesday, there will be an “invitation-only” meeting to discuss the possible formation of an ICDE COIL network. If you are interested in participating in that meeting, or in a related online network discussion which will follow in November, please write to: to request an invitation. Please identify your institution and your position.

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