FutureLearn Launches Free Online University Courses

UK’s biggest provider of online education announces open beta stage

The UK has entered the world of online education via “massive open online courses” (MOOCs) with the launch of FutureLearn – a platform which offers free access to educational programmes from 23 universities.

The courses will be available on PCs, smartphones and tablets to anyone with Internet access, in any part of the world. Design of the website includes “social learning” features such as discussion boards and profile pages, in hopes that interaction between students will help cut down on drop-out numbers – the bane of all MOOCs.

FutureLearn has entered open beta stage which will last until the beginning of 2014. It plans to run eight courses before the end of the year. The website will compete with already popular MOOCs from the US, such as Khan Academy and Coursera.

“FutureLearn has the potential to revolutionise conventional models of formal education,” commented Universities and Science Minister David Willetts. “I encourage all our institutions to explore the opportunities offered by new modes of technology, such as MOOCs. This will keep the UK ahead in the global race to deliver education in worldwide markets.”

Closing the gap

FutureLearn was originally set up in December 2012 as the UK’s first provider of free MOOCs. The company is owned by Open University, which has 44 years of expertise in distance learning, but operates independently.

Digital StormThe courses on offer will attempt to educate the masses through a combination of video, audio and text articles. Student progress is measured through multiple-choice tests, which give instant feedback. However, the graduates will not receive any formal qualifications, at least not yet.

FutureLearn plans to pilot paid-for “statements of accomplishment” and real-world exams at local test centres later this year.

For lecturers, the platform offers simple web-based course creation tools and detailed analysis of the students’ performance. It also gives them a chance to raise visibility of their work and attract more people to bricks-and-mortar universities.

Potential students can already sign up for courses in programming, history, psychology, marketing and even dental photography. So far, people from over 165 countries have registered their interest in taking a course on FutureLearn.

“We wanted to make FutureLearn a fresh, different and enjoyable user experience. We have designed the website in line with principles of effective learning, such as storytelling, discussions and celebrating progress. We decided to go live with FutureLearn now, in an open testing phase, so that we can remain responsive to learners as we continue to develop the website,” said Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, who previously oversaw the development of BBC Online.

“Our partners already have a range of courses in production and our pipeline for 2014 should have something to appeal to everyone, whether studying to improve their career prospects, enrich their lives or enliven their dinner conversations.” added Claire Davenport, commercial director at FutureLearn.

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