Course Spotlights: examples of best practice

April spotlight – University of Auckland – Logical and Critical Thinking

Auckland’s course on Logical and Critical Thinking, now in its 11th run, introduces some of the most vital skills in our modern world of fake news and clickbait – how to examine and evaluate received ideas – and it makes highly effective use of FutureLearn’s pedagogical tools to help learners develop and apply these skills independently. For example, formative quiz steps deliver educator feedback designed to make learners think more deeply about their answers.

The course is content-dense, but the structure takes this into account, making sure each week has a specific focus and that each week’s learning outcomes build on previous learning. This helps to motivate learners to continue through the course.

Not only does Logical and Critical Thinking have eight weeks packed with rigorous and thought-provoking content, it also uses humour to enhance learning. For a great example, watch the last 50 seconds of this video step, where the educator demonstrates why it is important to examine the premises of an argument as well as its logical construction.

April spotlight – University of Kent – Understanding Autism

Understanding Autism, a course from the University of Kent, is now in its eighth run, and continues to attract high enrolments. The topic was chosen after identifying unmet demand for an accessible online course offering reliable and evidence-based information about autism. The University of Kent is home to the Tizard Centre, widely recognised as world-leading in the study of learning disability and community care; as such, this course drew on the centre’s expertise, as well as benefiting from the credibility of its brand.

The course team also embraced social learning as a form of community-building, provoking conversation with the big question ‘Does Autism Exist?’. When designing the course, they had taken into account the need to represent the voices of people with autism-spectrum conditions in course content and in the facilitation team. This diversity was reflected in the supportive community of learners which emerged, where clinicians and support workers learned alongside people with autism-spectrum conditions and their loved ones.

March spotlight – The University of Roehampton – The Tudors

The enduring popular appeal of the history of England’s Tudor dynasty is undeniable. The era’s influence on national identity and culture can be felt to this day, its architecture marks Britain’s landscape with prodigy houses and heritage sites including the Tower of London, and it continues to inspire works of narrative art from novels and films to musicals and sitcoms. The University of Roehampton’s course, which began its first run on February 25, builds on this appeal to draw learners into the course, and keeps their interest by exploring connections between the often salacious personal lives of Tudor monarchs, the events of their reign, and topical political and social issues.

The course team made use of social media to tap into this widespread popularity. It was promoted both on Roehampton’s official social media and by educators. A tweet from the lead educator, Suzannah Lipscomb, on her personal Twitter account the day after the course opened for enrolment garnered over 1.7k likes and 400 retweets.

The success of this strategy was reflected in the outstanding course metrics, gaining over 10,000 joiners before the end of the first week and generating high revenue already. 

March spotlight – The Open University – Introduction to Cyber Security 

Now in its sixteenth run, the Open University’s Introduction to Cyber Security course is a perennial favourite. Since it started in October 2014, 230,000 learners have joined the course and gained skills in one of the most crucial subjects of the moment. In addition to the joiner numbers and learner satisfaction, it’s been a huge commercial success.

There are several factors behind its consistent success. Firstly, the demand for the subject is clear and pressing. The course was developed with UK Government’s National Cyber Security Programme to address a skills gap. It also features a lead educator, Cory Doctorow, who is a leading expert in the industry and well-known around the world.

Accreditation and assessment also offers extra value to learners. The course is accredited by three of the most well-regarded institutions in the field – GCHQ, APMG and The Institute of Information Security Professionals. This gives the course credibility and ensures the Certificate of Achievement has real value to employers. The course design includes tests every week, allowing learners to rigorously test their learning and provide evidence of their understanding to employers. Additionally, learners can gain external recognition of the skills gained in the course with an optional APMG exam.

February spotlight – King’s College London – Integrating Care: Depression, Anxiety and Physical Illness

This course, currently in its second run, is a strong all-rounder. In its first run it performed considerably above average on enrolments, conversion, and revenue. It appeals to two main groups of learners: healthcare professionals, and people struggling with their own mental and physical health or that of a loved one.

For professional learners, the integration of mental and physical healthcare practices is a priority area for professional development. ‘Integrating Care’ is unique among free online courses, and combines the credibility of a recognised brand and CPD Certification with succinct, well-produced content and practical case studies.

Meanwhile, for those with a more personal connection with the subject, the course is tied together with a strong narrative. Learners follow the story of a fictional character, Dave, who has depression and diabetes. His story gives learners a way to relate to the material, while also encouraging health professionals to empathise with their patients. In feedback, many remarked on how motivating they found the interactive format and the variety of content.

February spotlight – The King’s Fund – The NHS Explained: How the Health System in England Really Works

The NHS is a perennial hot topic: you’d have a hard time finding someone in the UK without an opinion on it. While this course’s largest audience was NHS employees and other healthcare workers, it was also able to tap into the popular debates around the beloved and controversial national institution which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.

‘The NHS Explained’ used high-quality video content and formative multiple-choice quizzes to approach a complex subject in a simple and engaging way. Its methodical structure and strong narrative also kept learners interested. Social learning was designed to be an integral part of the course through meaningful and thought-provoking discussion prompts. In their feedback, learners mentioned how much they appreciated reading others’ comments and exchanging perspectives.

Learners from many different backgrounds were able to benefit from the course, from the individual who had lived in the UK for a year and “never properly understood how the NHS worked before”, to the NHS employee of 15 years who not only enjoyed the “refresher” on familiar topics but was also able to “explore lots of new areas.”

Look out for second and third runs of ‘The NHS Explained’ later in 2019.

January spotlight – Queensland University of Technology – Teaching Students Who Have Suffered Complex Trauma

This course aimed at teaching staff and social workers debuted last spring and has already ran three times, with another three runs scheduled for 2019. It managed to tap into an unmet need, as there are no other online short courses available on this exact topic.

Although our data shows that in general 4-6 week long courses are the most successful, as they enable acquiring enough depth in a certain topic, this course’s short length (2 weeks) was a strong appeal with this particular audience. In qualitative research and surveys, teachers often tell us about their hectic lives revolving around the schedule of the academic calendar. As one teacher shared with us some positive remarks about including just the right amount of information: “no waffle, as I don’t have time for that”. Despite its length, it managed to deliver comprehensive knowledge beyond an introduction, as it had new information even for seasoned professionals. The start dates also fell outside the particularly busy periods for teachers, the start and end of the school year.

The course’s quality was also often praised by learners, unsurprisingly, as the material had  already been delivered and tested in a face to face setting: ”Excellent variety of resources; videos with transcripts provided; diagrams; simple information about the complex brain”

January spotlight – Cambridge Assessment English – Teaching English Online

The creation of this course was preceded by some thorough market research about learner needs by Cambridge Assessment English. They found that more and more teachers would like to teach flexibly online, but they might lack the knowledge on how to deliver classes effectively and use the right online tools. This course hit a sweet spot with our learner base, as a quarter of our learners work in education & teaching, the majority of them teaching English. Also, courses addressing digital skill gaps in particular tend to fare well, due to an ever-increasing demand to keep up with our changing world and put new skills into practice with the help of hands-on online courses.  

Even with the in-demand topic, the course could not have been successful without high quality content. The course scored 95% on the learner satisfaction survey due to it being a very well structured course with an incredible wealth of practical information that teachers can use immediately when starting out with their online teaching practise. As one learner put it: “Excellent contents, activities and additional information provided with link, articles, videos are amazing and the demo at the end of the week definitely superb. Also the people in the ‘classroom’ are very enriching with all their different experience and background and it is a very collaborative group“. On top of all the previous reasons, the educator team was also very much present, openly sharing their own perspectives.

 

December spotlight: Trinity College Dublin – Book of Kells

This month, the best performing course in terms of enrolments, satisfaction and even upgrades has been the Book of Kells from Trinity College Dublin. While this might seem surprising for a ‘niche’ topic, high quality and a targeted marketing campaign contributed to its success. 

What led to such high learner satisfaction? In brief: the incredible range of information the course provides; the way content was broken down into manageable chunks, with extra resources for those interested in learning more; and digital access to a rare manuscript held by the partner university and widely associated with Ireland.

As one learner put it:The wealth of information and access to resources is outstanding, and the quality of production is very encouraging in a world where so much is shallow and dumbed-down.”  Learners often mentioned how much they appreciated the access to the high quality, beautiful HD images found in the book. They could also channel their inner artist during the course, trying their hand at illuminating a letter or creating calligraphy with hands-on exercises.

Trinity’s course team had a proactive marketing plan, and coordinated with both our Marketing and Comms teams on press releases and targeted emails. These efforts helped attract tens of thousands of learners to the course, including 39% from the US.  

December Spotlight: London College of Fashion – Fashion and Sustainability

London College of Fashion partnered with luxury fashion group Kering to co-create a very topical fashion course on the issues, agendas and contexts relating to fashion and sustainability. The course is aimed both at people working in fashion and those with an interest in sustainability in the fashion industry.

They launched the course as part of a major marketing event at London Fashion Week, getting hundreds of enrolments on the spot during the week. Its first run attracted 10,622 enrolments, most of whom were ‘Advancers’, learners aiming to stay up-to-date in their field.

Apart from the brilliant marketing, the course’s success is also driven by its incredibly relevant topic in today’s world. The content is very high quality, covers 6 weeks of valuable material, and was tried and tested beforehand through classroom delivery.

A remarkable 95% of learners gave positive sentiment throughout the weekly surveys, such as: “I have been working in sustainability for many years.  I like fashion and every time I go shopping, I see how fashion in my country is not concerned about sustainability. I hope this course can help me to work on that and make a change in the domestic industry.”

Category Research insights

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