Tel Tales

Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: FutureLearn

The future of FutureLearn

Stephen Webb

FutureLearn – the first UK-led MOOC platform – is now in its fifth year of operation. It was launched in December 2012 by 12 UK universities, led by the Open University, and quickly established itself as a popular venue for people interested in learning online. From personal experience I’d argue that the MOOC offerings on FutureLearn tend to suffer from the same issues as those on similar digital education platforms – teaching can be of variable quality and attrition rates are high – but many people have chosen to study one or more of its courses: at the time of writing 5,758,685 learners (including most members of the TEL team here at Portsmouth) have signed up to FutureLearn. The FutureLearn consortium itself has grown too: it now features 109 partners. The majority of partners are UK universities, but non-UK universities are also on board; furthermore, FutureLearn is unique in this sector by allowing non-university partners such as the British Museum and the European Space Agency to deliver courses on the platform.

So FutureLearn’s growth has been impressive. But can it continue to grow in the way it has over the past four years? Perhaps not.

When it first launched, one of the key selling points of FutureLearn was its promise of free learning: anyone could register on a course and start learning with like-minded people. Students had to pay if they wanted certificates/statements of participation, but access to tests was free as was unlimited access to course content (even after the end of a course). This ‘free’ provision of content is a wonderful notion, but from the start there was a question mark surrounding the financial sustainability of this model.

The creation, delivery and administration of high-quality online learning courses is expensive. Extremely expensive. It came as no surprise recently, then, to learn that FutureLearn are introducing elements of a “freemium” model (see their blog post for more details). For courses starting on or after 6 March 2017 students will still get access to free online courses, but now they’ll have to “upgrade” if they want to get features that were previously free of charge. In particular, if students want access to tests or to access content more than 14 days after the end of the course then they’ll have to stump up between £24 to £69 (depending on the course).

FutureLearn is not the only successful MOOC platform in existence – and it’s not the only one that has changed its terms and conditions. Like FutureLearn, Coursera – a US-led educational technology company offering MOOCs – was founded in 2012; and like FutureLearn it started out with more free features on offer than at any time since. Registering and attending courses on Coursera is free, but an upgraded subscription offers more privileges and features. The income from learners who pay for the extra features is small, because the majority of users are content to use the free service and have slightly restricted access. While this access might be enough to acquire knowledge, it is not sufficient to acquire a Coursera ‘certificate’. And it seems that the students who pay for the extra features are more likely to complete the course on which they enrolled (they may be more motivated because they do not want to waste the money they spent; they may be motivated by the certificate they will get upon successful completion of their course; or they may feel better supported by the extra features they enjoy). Perhaps that is one of the reasons – among other more utilitarian ones such as marketing – that Coursera has managed to attract both academic and private sponsors, who give funding to prospective students following a quick application.

The FutureLearn business model, then, now seems to be the following. A small number of learners purchase the benefits provided by the upgrade; this provides enough income to permit free (but slightly restricted) access for all other learners. In these challenging times for HE, it will be interesting to see whether FutureLearn’s new business model will provide a financially sustainable future for the platform.

 

MOOC Experience

Mandy Harcup

Encouraged to enrol on a MOOC, and then write about my experience, I decided I had better first find out some information on what MOOC stands for and what a MOOC is. For those of you unfamiliar with this turn of phase, MOOC stands for a ‘massive open online course’ – originally designed to make distance learning available to the masses, where courses were intended to be free of charge.

So after doing an initial internet search on MOOCs and finding searches advertising ‘Free Online Courses’ – great I thought, free courses, I want to know more. So I searched Wikipedia where I read about background information and discovered how MOOCs have increased with popularity since 2012. MOOCs main appeal was that its online courses could have unlimited participations with open access via the web.

Although each MOOC has its own unique structure and style, I discovered that students on a MOOC were to learn from each other, by sharing knowledge through discussion and experiences.

Interestingly, there are two types of MOOCs: ‘xMOOC – Focuses on scalability’ and ‘cMOOC – Focuses on community and connections’ (illustrated in the image).

George Siemens (2013), co-creator of the first cMOOC, reported that they were‘based on the idea that learning happens within a network, where learners use digital platforms such as blogs, wikis, social media platforms to make connections with content, learning communities and other learners to create and construct knowledge.’ Whilst xMOOC are based on a more traditional classroom structure with a lecturer in control of the learning process, along with quizzes and assignments to monitor student learning.

So after researching MOOCs I decided to register with FutureLearn – a provider of free online courses. I found creating an account and choosing a course was nice and easy. I decided I would start off with a short course and chose one that said it was two hours a week for two weeks – short and sweet, I thought.

Disappointingly, a few days into my free online course, I received an email from FutureLearn stating that I would need to upgrade, at a cost, to experience the full range of benefits the course offers. The upgrade would costs between £24 and £69 – the actual price would not appear until I had almost completed the course.

During the first week of the course I felt like I spent longer than the recommended 2hrs per week working through course content and exercises – perhaps this was just because this method of study was a new experience to me. I enjoyed participating in online discussions, however, I would of liked to see more discussion from other participants, this could of been an idea time for the ‘lecturer’ to encourage train of thought and direct should the discussion stray off course.

Due to illness I was unable to participate in the second consecutive week of my course. Although I hadn’t upgraded I knew I still had access to course materials for another 14 days after the course had finished – if, however, I had upgraded I would have had unlimited access to course content for as long as the course exists in FutureLearn.

I successfully worked my way through the second week content until I reached the assessment section which was titled ‘Assess your Understanding – Test’.  If I wanted to take this test and receive a Certificate of Achievement I would have to pay £39, this I didn’t want to do. The last step of my course introduced the next course in the series, asked me to complete a questionnaire and showed a promotional video on the University of Leeds.

Did I enjoy the course, did I learn anything from it and would I do another?

The course covered managing identity online, the objective was to consider our online presence and how what people say online can have major implications on people’s real lives. We looked at defining and applying a personal code of practice for online communication, history of glossaries and enhancing our online identities using social media tools.

Would I do another course? Yes, I’d probably do another one in this series. I did enjoy the course and have put some of the practical skills into use, I’ve tried to tidy up what can be found if you searched my name and in doing so found it’s not so easy to remove everything.  On social media I’ve changed quite a few settings so I don’t receive so much unwanted advertisement and I’ve put security steps into place so that other people cannot see information on my Facebook page, should they type my name in the search box. One of the setting I’ve put in place is, if other people want to upload photos onto my page instead of happening automatically, I now receive notification and have to give permission, however, this doesn’t stop the photos appearing on their page.

On a more critical note, I did feel that, perhaps due to the shortness of the course, there was a real lack of discussion from other participants and a lack of presence from the online course leader to encourage direction and dialogue. I never did know if my contribution to the course was correct or not.  My main disappointment was, if I wanted to complete the course and receive a certificate then I would have to pay for it… so the course wasn’t entirely free!

References

MOOC poster (March, 2013). What is the media & cultural studies of the MOOC?Retrieved from:
http://blog.commarts.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/MOOCbetterwordbubble.png (Assessed: 11th April 2017)

Massive open online course (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved March 30, 2017 from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massive_open_online_course

Mathieu Plourde (2013). MOOC poster (by licensed CC-BY on Flickr). Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mathplourde/8620174342/ (Accessed: 29th March 2017)

Touro College Online Education for Higher Ed (August 2013). What is the Difference Between xMOOCs and cMOOCs? Retrieved from: http://blogs.onlineeducation.touro.edu/distinguishing-between-cmoocs-and-xmoocs/ (Accessed: 30 March, 2017)

Siemens, G. (2012). MOOCs are really a platform. Retrieved from:  http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/07/25/moocs-are-really-a-platform/