Fun Learning With Futurelearn

“Going into an online environment to learn is fun, social, an alternative to television and some of the other things you do for entertainment at night”, Simon Nelson, CEO of Futurelearn  says.

The role that entertainment plays in learning is often overlooked. Take a glance at massive open online courses (MOOCs). They’re often very conventional, based on lectures broadcast “at” students, rather than engaging with them.

Futurelearn, which is owned by The Open University, is planning to offer something different. Its product will be designed 100 per cent for students. To start with, it is looking at highly user-focused searching and browsing so people can find exactly the right course for them.

It will start offering free online courses from a number of UK universities later this year. And “In three years’ time we hope to be offering a level of online learning that we can’t dream about at the moment,” Nelson says.

Will It Disrupt Or Destruct?

In higher education, Nelson says, the majority of people realise that there are inherent strengths in the established model “that won’t get ripped apart overnight”.

He compared this fear with what BBC had faced when he was associated with it. Nelson spent more than 11 years at the BBC where he was responsible for the launch of the corporation’s online radio player, and assisted with the development of its on-demand service iPlayer.

“There were wildly exaggerated claims about what on-demand would do to television viewing, and the destruction of TV channels that just hasn’t happened.”

And he detects the same exaggerated fears in traditional institutions. But he says, “There is hype about the destruction of the traditional higher education institution, but I think most people can cut through it”.

How Is Futurelearn Going About Its Task?

  • 17 UK universities have signed up to offer courses
  • It has found two non- university partners — the British Library and the British Council.
  • It will launch products on the web by the middle of 2013, and a full consumer launch sometime in the autumn.
  • To begin with it will limit the number of universities, focusing on only top universities

So what roadmap Nelson has planned for Futurelearn? What business model Futurelearn will adopt?

Creating an excellent product first will be the top priority for Futurelearn, “business model will flow from that”.

Business models have begun to emerge in the US, where existing MOOC platforms such as Coursera , EdX and Udacity   have partnered with other education companies to allow students to take “proctored exams” (on-site tests supervised by an impartial observer). Coursera has also introduced paid-for online courses that allow students access to more rigorous assessment.

“We are watching the existing US providers extremely closely. I am full of respect for what those companies have achieved so far, but the rules of this market are not yet written. We can see a number of areas where we can offer something different, something that might change the game a bit, broaden the appeal, take it in a different direction”, says Nelson, keeping all his cards close to his chest.

Adapted from : Futurelearn’s boss on breaking into MOOCs

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