Archive for category MOOCs

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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European MOOC Consortium – Labour Market

Snow on cafe tables and chairs in BrusselsIn January, I was in snowy Brussels with Beck Pitt for the kick-off meeting of our new, Erasmus-funded project, ‘European MOOC Consortium – Labour Market’.

Project description

MOOCs and digital continuous education/training are a flexible and scalable solution for a transnational, truly European response to the needs of the economy across Europe. They can keep innovative knowledge and skills of the workforce up to date and anticipate on careers of tomorrow.

MOOC platforms in the European MOOCs Consortium (EMC) look for solutions to reach better the labour market. In this knowledge alliance, they opt for a structural collaboration with public employment services (PES) active on the national labour markets, with companies and with a sectoral industrial organisation. The alliance is anchored both in the world of work (PES, companies, sectoral organisation) and in the world of education and training (universities, platforms). It shows which role MOOC platforms, universities, PES and companies jointly play on the labour market.

PES and companies are not only mediators between MOOC platforms and individual learners, but also as allies in the (co-)development and (co-)delivery of MOOCs and digital continuous education and training (CE, CT)

The main purpose of the alliance is to strengthen the partners by sharing experience and expertise on MOOCs and digital CE and CT; to create a framework for structural collaboration on the development, delivery and use of MOOCs for the EU labour market; to empower all partners on MOOCs for the labour market, and to implement a responsive and large-scale outreach to the EU labour market. This will facilitate the exchange and flow of knowledge, strengthening Europe’s innovation capacity. The visibility and accessibility of MOOCs for CE/CT will be increased by a joint portal for the EU labour market, surveys and a marketing plan.

Last, but not least, EMC-LM will contribute to regional, national and European policies for continuous education and training, employment and growth, proposing strategies for change and action plans. By doing this, it contributes to the Modernisation Agenda and Digital Education Plan.

Project partners

  • 1. EADTU Vereniging van European Distance Teaching Universities, Netherlands. (MOOC platform OpenupEd)
  • 2. FUTURELEARN, United Kingdom
  • 3. GIP-FUN France Université Numérique (MOOC platform), France
  • 4 TED Telefónica Educación Digital (runs MiriadaX MOOC platform), Spain
  • 5 UniFg University of Foggia (lead partner in Italian MOOC platform), Italy, EduOpen
  • 6 OUUK The Open University, United Kingdom
  • 7 VDAB Public authority for the co-ordination of the labour market in Flanders, Belgium
  • 8 ANPAL National Agency for Active Labour Policies, Italy
  • 9 OPCALIM French government agency in charge of Vocational Training for the food-processing  industry, France

Our first big task in the project will be to produce a state-of-the-art analysis of MOOC provisions for the EU labour market.


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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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Tina Papathoma: viva success

Tina, two supervisor and her examiners

Tina Papathoma celebrates a successful viva

On 17 January 2019 one of my doctoral students, Tina Papathoma, successfully defended her viva. Her subject was ‘MOOC educators: who they are and how they learn’. Her examiners were Martin Weller from The Open University and Jen Ross from The University of Edinburgh in a viva chaired by Karen Kear.

The acknowledgments at the start of Tina’s thesis include a glimpse into the process of completing a thesis.

‘A PhD journey is often a lonely one. I tried to make it more sociable, and at times funny and adventurous, by going to the office every day for the duration of the project. I got to know nice people, during our many light and serious discussions. I want to thank all my office mates, who listened when I had bad days, and especially Lesley Boyd and her hugs! Thanks to all the people at the OU: to the security team who were there to deactivate building alarms as I went to work on Christmas day and bank holidays; to the man who helped me out of the lift when I got stuck and whose name I don’t know; to Mark Gray from Estates, who helped me when I had a head injury in the car park and who secured my bike when I left it unlocked. There are so many such moments that escape me right now!’ (Papapthoma 2019, p3)

Abstract: Tina Papathoma

This study set out to answer the following research questions: who teaches in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and how do these different educators learn to teach?

To do this, it utilised Tynjälä’s theoretical model of Integrative Pedagogy that brings together different elements of professional expertise. To this end, a ‘multiple case study’ was conducted, with a focus on teaching activities and who is involved in them, as well as on educators’ ‘processes of knowledge building’, and the forms of knowledge they integrate. The data comprised 28 interviews with professionals with teaching responsibilities in seven MOOCs on the subject of History and of Politics on the FutureLearn platform. The seven cases were analysed using different strategies (theoretical propositions, ground-up data, and rival explanations).

The analysis showed that the role of ‘educator’ is filled not only by those with the titles used by the FutureLearn platform, but also by other professionals who take pedagogical decisions. MOOC teaching activities are diverse, different from face-to-face teaching and it is difficult for them to be carried out by a single individual. Educators in different courses and different universities used diverse models of work practice, each of which had advantages and disadvantages. MOOC educators learned to teach effectively when they had a shared goal, worked in transparent ways and involved interdisciplinary teams in a timely manner.

These findings can help institutions and platforms to design better Continuing Professional Development programmes and, ultimately, more effective MOOC learning journeys. Drawing on this evidence, the original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is a new conceptualisation of who the educators of MOOCs are, developed by uncovering the roles of professionals who carry out teaching on these courses, the wide variety of teaching activities involved and the ways people learn to work towards these.

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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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