Archive for category FutureLearn

OU quals on FutureLearn

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 14.15.22Another opportunity to talk to OU practitioners about the experience of putting an OU qualification on FutureLearn. This time the event was organised by the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Faculty at The Open University and was the annual meeting of their Taught Postgraduate Group.


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FutureLearn Academic Network: Dublin

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The FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) ran its second event outside the UK in March 2019, with a visit to Dublin City University. I led a short workshop session at the end of the event on the network’s plans for the future.


Faílte – Welcome

  • Mark Brown, Director of National Institute of Digital Learning, DCU
  • Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl, The Ideas Lab@NIDL:DCU

Metrics for MOOCs and Masters

  • Tim O’Shea, University of Edinburgh

Running up that Hill: Cross Course Continuation on Irish Language MOOC Isabel Drury, FutureLearn

  • Conchúr Mac Lochlainn, Dublin City University

FutureLearn Update The World of Teachers

  • Isabel Drury, FutureLearn

Inclusive Higher Education through MOOCs: Integrating an Online Social Enterprise Program into an Indian University

  • Jeremy Wade, O.P. Jindal Global University


  • Eileen Scanlon, The Open University

What are they really feeling? Making sense of emotional data in MOOCs

  • Elaine Beirne, Dublin City University

The Big Debate

  • Mark Brown NIDL
  • Graínne Conole Open Education@NIDL: DCU

The Future of FLAN

  • Rebecca Ferguson, The Open University


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OU qualifications on FutureLearn

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 13.24.43The OU runs a series of lunchtime seminars on quality enhancement (QELS) each month. It’s an opportunity for practitioners across the university to share their practice with others. I presented in April 2019 about the experience of launching the Postgraduate Certificate in Open and Distance Education (PGCert ODE) on FutureLearn.


In February 2019, The Open University launched its first full qualification on FutureLearn. The new module H880: TEL Foundations and Futures provides successful completers with the 60 credits necessary to obtain a Postgraduate Certificate in Online and Distance Education. The module team has been the first in the University to grapple with the problems of moving from Moodle to FutureLearn, including the different ways of doing things at the OU and at FutureLearn. We were determined that the move would bring benefits to our students, and that H880 tutors would be happy with the move. In this seminar, Rebecca will talk about the process of adapting a module to FutureLearn, the benefits of the move, and the challenges that still need to be addressed.

If you have an OU staff log-in, you can access a video of this talk via the QELS Intranet site.

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FutureLearn Partner Forum

Brainstorming exercise around the roles of FutureLearn partnersFutureLearn now has more than 160 partner institutions, so even at the biggest meet-ups, there’s only room for one or two representatives from each organisation.

January 2019 was my first opportunity to attend in person, for two days of meetings, talks and discussion held at Friends House, opposite Euston in London.

There was a lot of variety in the talks. In one set of lightning talks, partners from four countries talked about thinking big and scaling up their engagement. Learners talked about how they found the FutureLearn experience and what happened next. MOOC leads from some of the most successful courses discussed how they had gone about recruiting, engaging, and retaining learners.

It was a great opportunity to meet people from universities and partner institutions around the world. I was able to talk about developing accredited courses with educators from Deakin, about research with various members of the FutureLearn Academic Network, and about future plans with members of the FutureLearn team.

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FutureLearn Educators

The new module I’m leading, H880: TEL Foundations and Futures, is the first that The Open University is presenting on FutureLearn. The shift from the university’s Moodle virtual learning environment (VLE) to FutureLearn has meant many changes.

The module is using the conversational learning pedagogy supported by FutureLearn. Learners are encouraged and supported to converse about why things happen, offering conceptions of their learning and questioning the understanding of others, in attempts to reach agreement about their reflective understandings. They ask questions, and share experiences, interpretations and links to resources.

We know, from our experience with MOOCs, that conversational learning can generate an enormous amount of discussion. The first run of The Online Educator MOOC, for example, which ran for just four weeks, prompted comments with a similar word length to Crime and Punishment. H880 has 32 study weeks.

Many of these discussions are ‘water-cooler conversations’, like the ones that take place by an office water-cooler. People come in and out; some contribute, some simply listen. Some stay for a while, some are only there briefly. There’s no expectation that students or tutors will engage with the entire conversation, just with the most recent or the most popular comments.

This is a different model to VLE forum discussion, where students and tutors often read all comments posted, and the main learning activities take place elsewhere.

I therefore ran a one-day briefing on 17 November for the associate lecturers (tutors) who would be working on the module, outlining the differences between the VLE and FutureLearn, and suggesting ways of working. I also circulated the first draft of the ‘Tutor Guide’, a resource that brings together a set of information about the module structure, pedagogy, and ways of working, as well as information about available tools and resources.

The module team and tutors will be working together to put into practice a way of working that provides the same level of support for students as on any other OU postgraduate module, without overburdening tutors.

Student Support Team

Support for students at The Open University doesn’t only come from tutors. There’s a team on the LIbrary Helpdesk, where the ‘Chat to a Librarian’ facility is available 24/7. There’s the Computing Helpdesk team, who provide support every day of the year except Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Easter Sunday. There are also Student Support Teams, who answer general enquiries and provide specialist advice on students’ areas of study six days a week.

All three teams needed to know how a FutureLearn module would be different to an H880 module in order to be able to support students. They also all need to be able to access the module (the registration process currently has to take place manually, rather than going ahead automatically, as it would on the VLE). I spent a day in Nottingham, working with 19 members of the Student Support team who would be dealing with H880. As with the tutors, there were opportunities to discuss what would happen when the module went live, and to consider which established practices would change. And, as with the tutors, there was a determination to provide students with the same level of support as they would expect on any other OU module.

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FLAN: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Tweet about the eventThe final FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) meeting of 2018 took place on 6 November at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). The theme was ‘Developing the research agenda’, and the event included presentations and group discussion on priority areas for future MOOC research and development.

FLAN members identified twelve broad areas where more work is needed.
1. Accreditation
2. Adapting MOOCs for blended and/or local context
3. CPD in specific areas, including health and education
4. Impact of MOOCs on learning and on learners
5. Learner behaviour, including retention and progression
6. Learning design
7. MOOC educators: understanding and developing their skills
8. Openness: benefits, constraints and approaches
9. Personalisation: implementation, AI and machine learning
10. Quality assurance and recognition of MOOCs and open learning
11. Social learning: discussion and interaction
12. Widening access and participation: diversity and inclusion

We’ll be looking at these themes in more detail during the coming year.


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Building on previous research: FLAN Glasgow Meeting

This account that I wrote of a meeting of the FutureLearn Academic Network at Glasgow University was originally published on the FutureLearn Partners’ blog.

The meeting took place three weeks before the network’s fifth anniversary on 26 September 2018.

Tweet about Glasgow FLAN meeting alongside a picture of Glasgow UniversityTogether, we’re building a substantial body of work related to learning at scale. This was clearly evident at the autumn meeting of the FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN) held at the University of Glasgow on Friday 7 September.

Adriana Wilde from the University of St Andrews and Conchúr Mac Lochlainn from Dublin City University both linked their research work to earlier work by the FutureLearn team that had identified FutureLearn archetypes. Each of these seven archetypes has a characteristic motivation for joining a particular MOOC, and is associated with a set of needs and values. Conchúr related these archetypes to student motivations on a specific course, while Adriana was interested in exploring different ways of clustering learners, dependent on their activity on the MOOC.

Two speakers presented research-supported tools that could be used to support exploration and learning. Phil Tubman contrasted the utility of the FutureLearn platform – what it does – with the usability of the platform – how this is conveyed to learners. He noted that a focus on progression may distract learners from reflecting on what has gone before. Phil’s Comment Discovery Tool, reported at earlier FLAN meetings, has proved to be a useful way of navigating comments on specific MOOCs. Another tool was introduced by Mike Sharples, who presented NQuire tool, the result of research into science teaching and learning. Mike explained how the tool could be used to support inquiry-based learning in FutureLearn MOOCs.

Three speakers from Dublin City University presented work related to the university’s series of MOOCs that provide an introduction to Irish language and culture. Each study dealt with the courses from a different perspective, building up a rich picture of motivations, identity, emotions and social media activity.

Shi Min Chua’s work built on previous research in conversational analysis and linguistics. She is exploring why some learners’ comments provoke response, while others go unanswered. If you want a response, it seems it’s good to use words like ‘please’, ‘wonder’ and ‘why’ when you comment, inviting opinions and expressing uncertainty. And, if you’re a language educator who wants to get a Twitter conversation going, Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl revealed that it’s really helpful to start sharing images and text about your dog!

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