FutureLearn day one

Today might end up being a truly historic one that we look back to…or it might not.  Either way, FutureLearn caused a stir when it was announced and has created some patriotic drum beating today, the UK entering the online-HE-space ‘race’ (some would say to the bottom), perhaps not coincidentally timed a year from the Scottish referendum vote and largely ignoring the Australian component.

FutureLearn can be seen as a first step, a way to help those considering putting their bum in an actual University seat as well as, you would imagine, something that will develop into a full blown credit bearing beast at some point.  After all, Coursera’s business model was questioned but is increasingly being seen as feasible with the limited purchasing of credit bearing certificates combined with potential sale of courseware.

The issue with FutureLearn as its own credit delivery platform may be that as a consortium tool it works on the best traditions of UK HE in terms of sharing resources and many academics who are keen on the idea will no doubt be keen to make their resources available via OER repositories or elsewhere.  Conflict may come from the FutureLearn parent is looking to make money rather than be some JISC-like ‘for the good of the sector’ organisation.  The value added by what is possible via instructional elements, housed on FutureLearn, should though be the make or break of the tool.  For example, I am currently enrolled on three MOOCs, including:

–       One being run on a Moodle installation, which I’m largely ignoring as I’m picking up the videos on YouTube and that’s about all I have time for.

–       One being run on CourseSites, which I’m largely ignoring but is interesting in that the tutor has agreed licences with Pearson for value added materials you would not normally have open access to.

My point being, will the FutureLearn ‘courses’ delivered be much more than a mix of media that can be accessed elsewhere?  The instructional glue and communication elements are therefore essential.  Unlike Blackboard users transferring courses to run as MOOCs on Coursesites, by being on its own system it at least suggests that some thought will go into ‘MOOCing’ the content.

The real annoyance for many who have worked in Learning Technology is the sale in the media of MOOCs as something new.  Yes, the scale goes beyond what has been done before but otherwise these are not so revolutionary.  The networked learning that may have been attached to some of the truly open courses at the movements beginning is fast becoming mainstream, even in corporate environments.  Indeed it is noticeable the focus give to FutureLearn’s mobile compatibility in the initial press reports, i.e. this is about learning when and where you want to not necessarily how you might best learn.  In addition the MOOC detractors are picking up on issues such as how to avoid cheating in MOOCs, something which has been worked on in the online sphere both by learning and technical focused staff for some time.  There are solutions here but of course it comes back to the quality of the learning design.  What seems to be missing in many of the MOOCs I have attended is that if you really need more dialogue than a university length course can afford, should these experts rather not engage people in an ongoing community where people can continue to learn over time, influence by the latest research and not with a solitary ‘tutor’ voice?  What I would really love to see is a community of interest introduced via a MOOC, rather than universities trying to advertise their expensive offerings.

There is a good summary here that considers the importance of brand in all this and again the two MOOCs I mention above fail.  Emails the tutor sends me from Blackboard or Moodle are largely plain text, no branding, no really obvious sign where or who they have come from.  I am presuming this will be different in the three FutureLearn courses I have signed up for.  Indeed it would seem FutureLearn are ‘going alone’ in the technical regard with a recent job advert (for a Learning Technologist) on LinkedIn combining an interest in online education with substantial technical skills in analytics, programming (including Ruby on Rails) and writing to “top ranking journals” quality.  The boldness of the approach, not least from the technical side is further covered here.

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