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UK: FutureLearn goes live; Willetts’ MOOC vision

The mainly-UK backed MOOC platform, FutureLearn, was unveiled yesterday at a press conference. CEO Simon Nelson explained how the MOOC is redefining distance learning to harness the power of the social web, while Minister David Willetts shared his vision for how MOOCs could help shape the future of cross-sectoral education delivery and student recruitment.
September 19 2013
3 Min Read

The mainly-UK backed MOOC platform, FutureLearn, was unveiled yesterday at a press conference held at the British Library, which is one of the three British cultural institutions lending its weight to the Open University (OU)-owned and built MOOC platform.

The British Library, British Council and British Museum are all involved with the online learning platform which Minister David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, is championing.

FutureLearn is the UK’s answer to platforms in the USA such as Coursera, which is used by many top institutions.

Willetts used the occasion to suggest he would like to see a MOOC platform – which enables universities to deliver courses for free to learners around the world, which are moderated but not accredited – for British vocational training too. He nodded to the high level of global recognition for British vocational qualifications such as City & Guilds and BTEC.

He also echoed points made previously about the potential he believes MOOCs have to disrupt international student recruitment channels and impact on education agencies.

MOOCs will allow universities to identify those students who are exceptional in any particular subject and then pro-actively market to them internationally.

Willetts believes MOOCs will disrupt recruitment channels for both domestic and international education

Willetts believes MOOCs will disrupt recruitment channels and wants to see a vocational platform in the future

Extrapolating on this point during an event two weeks previously, he said, “Part of the business models for MOOCs is… if the university then recruits the student they first got to know via a MOOC course, they’d charge the university a fee for having found that student. And I think that is going to be one of the exciting developments.”

CEO of FutureLearn, Simon Nelson, told The PIE that “over time we believe there will be a range of commercial opportunities that we can bring to bear.”

He added, “One clear business model is to market to and attract domestic and international students.”

Pro-Vice Chancellor for learning and teaching at the University of Bath, Professor Bernie Morley, agreed with the sentiment that MOOCs will come to represent a digital storefront for HE institutions. “MOOCs give us this opportunity to widen participation and open up what we are doing both in the UK and internationally,” he said.

“It’s a great way of showing how good we are at what we say we do.”

The universities that are part of FutureLearn thus far represent the UK, and one institution respectively from Australia and Ireland. They are: Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Anglia, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Leicester, Loughborough, Kings College London, Lancaster, Leeds, Monash (in Australia), Nottingham, The Open University, Queen’s Belfast, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Strathclyde, Trinity College Dublin (in Ireland) and Warwick.

In addition, the British Council, British Library and the British Museum have all agreed to partner with FutureLearn to share content and their expertise and collaborate in the development of courses.

If there was an Ivy League of distance learning providers, OU would be no.1 in the world

Asked if FutureLearn really did represent the “best of British” given some top ranking universities are not currently involved, Martin Bean, Vice-Chancellor of the OU, responded, “I make no apologies for the company that we keep,” adding that if there was an Ivy League of distance learning providers, OU would be no.1 in the world.

Nelson used the event to explain social features of FutureLearn, which fundamentally rethinks learning and “aims to harness the power of the social web”. Learners will be able to become friends with fellow students and interact, commenting on their posts about a subject and following an “activity feed” around all students on a course or just “friends” also following their course.

While being part of the platform is free, FutureLearn partners do have to commit what Willetts acknowledged was considerable resources into designing an online programme and enabling staff to moderate the courses.

• Click here to listen to Ranald Leask, Press and PR Officer, explain why University of Edinburgh is involved in both Coursera and FutureLearn.

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