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FutureLearn turns five, announces new PG degrees

Edtech firm FutureLearn has celebrated its fifth anniversary with an evening celebration in London’s Houses of Parliament. Hosted along with Open University, the firm’s parent organisation, the event was attended by members of Parliament from both major parties, along with stakeholders from the edtech and HE spheres.

Celebrating the edtech firm's fifth birthday, left-to-right, Peter Horrocks, Baroness Lane-Fox, Simon Nelson. Photo: The PIE News

"We might be late to the party, but we want to be the best dancers"

In its first five years, the online learning platform has gained over seven million learners, in at least 200 locations worldwide.

“It is so important that we… continue to improve, change and innovate around the way we learn”

One of the key speakers at the event was Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, who alongside her chancellory of the Open University, is a non-executive director of social media giant Twitter.

She commented on the transformation of online learning, from MOOCs, to fully online degrees and post-graduate qualifications, saying FutureLearn had made a vital contribution to the industry.

Although she refused to use what she referred to as “The B-word”, Lane-Fox also noted that FutureLearn’s impact around the world showed the sort of innovation and bravery that would be needed after the UK leaves the EU in 2019.

I feel extremely proud of the UK for creating FutureLearn… because it is so important that we continue to challenge ourselves about the best way to learn, that we continue to improve, change and innovate around the way we learn,” she said. 

Not only is it incredibly important as part of the wider education landscape but it’s also important for how we think about ourselves over the next journey in the UK’s history”. 

Simon Nelson, FutureLearn’s CEO, gave a brief overview of the company’s short history.

The aim was to launch “the UK’s answer to what was predominantly a US phenomenon” in online education and MOOCs, he said.

But this vision was not limited to the usual suspects, and after the initial university partners were made, FutureLearn moved towards other partnerships.

These included the British Library, which Nelson said then became a landlord “as they incubated us for three years”.

Indeed, the firm’s mission was always to stand out in a crowded market, Nelson said. He recalled one moment when former Open University vice-chancellor Martin Bean declared “we might be late to the party, but we want to be the best dancers”.

Since then, the platform has expanded, and now offers full degree programs, from institutions around the world. In a new move, the company’s parent HEI, The Open University, will also begin to offer full post-graduate degrees through FutureLearn.

“And I’m delighted to announce, this evening, that The Open University plans to begin offering postgraduate degrees on FutureLearn too, and we expect to announce more partners over the next few months,” said Nelson. 

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