Introducing upgrading on FutureLearn courses

In this post our Chief Product Officer, Matt Walton talks about something new to FutureLearn: upgrading.

From today, we’re making some changes to the way FutureLearn courses work. Now you’ll be able to upgrade your courses, giving you a set of benefits, instead of only being able to buy a Certificate when you finish a course.

You can now upgrade your courses

On FutureLearn courses starting from 6 March 2017, you will have the option to upgrade a course

When you upgrade you get:

Upgrading usually costs between £24-£69, depending on the course (the same price as the certificates you could buy before). If you choose not to upgrade, you can still access the majority of the course for free, for the duration of the course plus two weeks – regardless of when you join. We still want to be sure everyone can benefit from high-quality education from leading organisations and universities.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison:

✓ Access to the course for its length + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)✓ Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
x No access to course tests✓ Access to course tests
x No certificate✓ A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Useful things to know

You can upgrade a course at any time – before, during or after the course to get the benefits mentioned above. For example if you decide to upgrade your course after it ends, and want a certificate – you’ll be able to go back and do any tests to make sure you qualify for one.

Upgrading won’t affect courses that started before 6 March 2017 – you’ll still have access to previous courses you’ve joined and/or completed.

Why are we introducing upgrading?

We want to give as many people as we can the benefits of great learning. That’s what drives us, and why FutureLearn was created.

But producing high-quality courses and maintaining FutureLearn costs a lot and requires a lot of work from us and our partners. The UK’s Open University made an initial investment to get us up and running, but we’re a business and we need to be financially sustainable to be able to keep making education available to as many people as possible.

Our business model relies on a small number of people purchasing something that they value in order to keep the courses free for everyone to access.

But research we carried out showed that a certificate on its own doesn’t offer enough value for money and that some people don’t want or need a certificate. That’s why we want to create a more useful package of features that we think provides great value to as many people as possible.

These new features should offer you, our learners, a better set of benefits – and ensure we’re able to keep offering free learning to millions of people.

Over the coming months we’re likely to experiment with other benefits to help support your learning. Please get in touch if you have ideas for things that you would like to see us offer.

Why should you upgrade?

Take the course at your own pace
Being able to access the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn gives you ability the to learn at your own pace and refer back to course content whenever you like.

Validate your learning
When you upgrade, you’ll have access to any tests during the course. This allows you to ensure you have mastered the course material.

Prove your success
By taking tests you can qualify for a Certificate of Achievement or Statement of Participation to prove what you’ve learned. This is great for demonstrating your learning and commitment to your manager, potential employer or educational institutions.

Still got questions? Find answers in our Help Centre or the questions and answers in the comments below. If we’ve missed anything, feel free to ask in the comments and we will answer as best we can.

Thanks for all your comments. Comments on this post are now closed.

Category FutureLearn news, Making FutureLearn, Using FutureLearn

Comments (351)

  • Hi everyone,

    Thank you for your comments.

    We understand that this change will be disheartening for some learners. But our objective is to make FutureLearn sustainable, so that we can continue to offer the courses that you love.

    Our research (which consisted of a survey of 1,000 learners, plus two rounds of face-to-face user research with learners at our offices) showed us that introducing upgrades is a good way to do this. It allows us to continue to offer all the learning material – except for tests – for free for a period, and provides more value to those learners who wish to pay to complete the course and earn a certificate.

    To answer some specific recurring points that came up in your comments:

    Access – There seemed to be confusion over what access free learners will get. You’ll be able to access a course for its duration, plus two weeks, starting from when you originally join. This is regardless of the course start date. Say for instance you joined a two week course starting on 6 March:
    If you joined the course on 6 March or earlier, you’ll have access until 3 April
    if you joined the course on 22 March, you’ll have access until 19 April

    Upgrade vs Downgrade – Some commenters remarked that the ‘upgrade’ feels more like a ‘downgrade’, especially for those who have been learning with us from the start. We understand why you may see it that way, but as stated above, this is just the beginning for upgrading and we will be introducing more benefits in the future.

    Other ideas – You suggested many other ways we can potentially generate revenue from courses – e.g. learner contributions to courses, and subscription. We welcome these suggestions and they are ideas we are exploring.

    Pricing – Many of you also noted that the price of our upgrades / certificates is too high for you. We are regularly adjusting our pricing in order to deliver the maximum value for money for learners whilst remaining sustainable and will continue to do so with this feedback in mind. We will also continue to explore ways to make upgrades / certificates available to those who can’t otherwise afford them through initiatives such as the British Council’s Study UK campaign and our partnerships.

    Finally, we would like to emphasise that we still believe in offering free online learning and that principle has not changed. Access to high quality learning is still available for those who cannot pay, and the income from upgrading will help us to continue to provide this in the future.

    Simon Pearson – Head of Consumer Products, FutureLearn

  • Stephen

    Did I miss the “we will share a general update shortly” message from HQ?

  • Brenda Lissett López Zúñiga

    Hello! I finished the course “The power of color” that began on 6th february and I would like to know how can I get Statement of Participation What can I do?..
    And other question is if at the end of the course, can we obtain qualifications of each course that I will finish? Thank you !, I hope your respond.

  • meztli izanami cruz romero

    First question, how do I update ?. Second question can we buy certificates before starting the course ?. Third question there will be no exams ?. Fourth and last question in total I have to pay for everything, thanks, I hope to respond soon


    By ‘upgrading’ you actual mean downgrading the standard free terms.

    The course length + 14 days is insufficient time, I would suggest a minimum of double the course length.

    Actually, the main effect of limiting access to the material is to encourage the downloading and local storage of the material. To my mind, this should be seen as a negative for FL, better if the material stayed on FL where you have control.

    As the quizzes remain part of the free offering, I am not too bothered about loosing the tests, and the certificate was never worth the money anyway. So, it is the loss of access to the material after just 14 days, that is the big problem.

    I’ll still come back, if a course peaks my interest and I am grateful to have experienced FL in its purest free form.

    I hate the doublespeak of this announcement. It displays all the worst traits of modern marketing and very few of the values of the OU, which I had hoped were the backbone of FL.

    Such a shame.