FutureLearn’s CEO, Simon Nelson talks about the FutureLearn journey so far, as well as the company’s next steps.
In a meeting with Martin Bean, Vice Chancellor of The Open University, in November last year, I was introduced to the word “mooc”. We were sat in a small Open University office, opposite the MTV building I was more used to visiting in this part of town, and, though the word sounded faintly ridiculous, it definitely sounded different, interesting and rather unlike my normal perceptions of higher education.
Since that day, when the FutureLearn journey started in earnest, I have seen the FutureLearn product, team and learner base grow more quickly and develop more excitingly than I had ever anticipated.
10 months on and the product has gone live, evolving from an idea in an office in Camden, to a fully functioning, social, online learning platform, available for people across the world.
This week a list of courses, from over 20 of FutureLearn’s UK and international partner institutions, was made available on our website, eight of which are scheduled to begin between October and December this year. There is a diverse mix of courses ranging from The Power of Brands to The England of Richard III and from Dental Photography to Ecosystems, to name just a few.
It was great to unveil the beta product that the team has been designing and building at our press event at the British Library this week. I thought I might take this chance to share a little about what has driven us so far and what is coming next.
One of the things that has been core to everyone involved since the beginning is the learning design that underlies FutureLearn. Working closely together, FutureLearn developers and academic experts in learning and educational technology from the OU have designed a platform combining sound learning principles with the product development team’s knowledge of digital media, the social web and mobile development. Our aim is to provide people with an enjoyable learning experience as well as helping people learn effectively.
Being open is another important element for FutureLearn. In the spirit of openness around which our founder, the Open University and the modern web totally align, we plan to share our plans and to evolve the product based on learner feedback, usage, learning outcomes and our partners’ visions for their courses, as well our own ideas. We are in beta at the moment and, even after that, we will be continuing to develop the platform continually in this way.
We’ve prioritised some other key foundations from the moment we began to build the Futurelearn platform as well:
- The experience must operate seamlessly across devices, so that we can truly help to transform the accessibility and convenience of learning and can experiment with new forms of mobile delivery. So you can start a course at your desktop, pick it back up in your armchair via your tablet and grab 20 minutes on your smartphone on your journey to work.
- We believe that, while we can never replace the direct tuition and communal experience of learning on campus, the social web has now become so much a part of people’s lives that we can harness it to ensure that learning is not a solitary experience. You’ll see many of the features you are familiar with from social networks in our courses and expect to see us innovating in new ways to deliver learning in the near future.
- We haven’t compromised on the quality of our user experience. Frequently we’ve questioned whether we should take short-cuts, accept a slightly unsatisfactory look and feel or navigation (Ok, I’ve questioned it and the team has pushed back!). I’m delighted that we’ve stuck to our guns. We won’t have got everything right (which is why we are launching in beta) and we could possibly have delivered more if we’d taken a few of those short cuts, but we believe that a clean, simple, intuitive and enjoyable multi-platform user experience is essential and will make FutureLearn stand out in the crowd.
We wouldn’t be where we are today – albeit only just going live – without amazing support and belief from our partners. The leap of faith our very early partners took to commit to us when there was not a line of code written was hugely motivating. The way everyone has collaborated to bring the product to market with some amazing first courses has been inspiring. They have moved at a pace and with a flexibility that many would have thought beyond the university sector. We look forward to evolving this together over the coming months and years.
On Wednesday morning, sharing a stage at the British Library with Martin Bean, the Vice-Chancellor of the Open University, and Rt Hon David Willetts MP, the UK Government Minister for Universities, I unveiled the FutureLearn platform to the public for the first time. The subsequent spike in registrations and frenzied conversations on social media confirmed to me that we have created something that people will love and that will have a real impact on their lives.
What’s next then? Well, in addition to the first courses getting underway – one each week in the autumn – we expect to announce new courses, partnerships and collaborations, adding to the breadth of content on offer on FutureLearn. There will also be technological developments building on the feedback from users in the beta testing stage. And we will be offering our first statements of accomplishment to learners who complete courses, giving them something to show off their newly acquired knowledge.
Thank you to all our learners – many of you registering before we were able to share much information – for your support and enthusiasm which continues to motivate all of us. Our partners and we look forward to working to make this an enjoyable way for you to learn for life.
We have now launched the FutureLearn Facebook page and YouTube channel where you will be able keep up to date with what we are doing, and, if you have not done so already, please remember to follow us on Twitter @futurelearn.
The first course will begin on 14 October so, if you are keen to take part in FutureLearn’s first MOOCs then enrol now at www.futurelearn.com.