Archive for category Open online learning

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.


Leave a comment

Leverhulme writing camp 2019

IMG_9030.jpgApril, and one of my favourite annual events – the Leverhulme Writing Camp.

The doctoral students on the Open World Learning programme funded by Leverhulme, together with their supervisor, spend a week in the Peak District, writing and researching, discussing and community building.

The OWL funding covers three cohorts of six students. The newest students are now coming to the end of their second year – the first cohort are gradually spreading out internationally as they complete their studies and start work.

Leave a comment

FutureLearn Academic Network: Dublin

Screen Shot 2019-05-17 at 13.36.32.png

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


Leave a comment

H880: first OU ‘degree’ on FutureLearn

H880 Technology-enhanced learning foundations and futures, the postgraduate module I’m chairing, went live on FutureLearn on Monday 4 February 2019. The module uses conversational learning, so students can benefit from studying as a diverse group from around the world.

We’re also taking the opportunity to include as much openness as we can in the module. Most of the resources we use are openly available, so students can make use of them in their own practice. We’re giving four weeks of the module a non-commercial creative commons licence. Once again, the aim is that students can take and rework the material to suit their own context.

We’ve also included an openly accessible MOOC, The Online Educator, as part of the study materials. H880 students will take part in this short MOOC alongside its other learners, benefiting from their perspectives, and also having opportunities to reflect on the distinctions between formal/formal, open/paid learning.

You can keep up with H880 via our Community blog, or our Twitter account. The Online Educator MOOC runs on FutureLearn several times a year. Join us on any run of the MOOC as a taster of some of the H880 material, or join the March presentation to study alongside the H880 cohort.

And, of course, it would be great if you joined us as a student on H880. It’s a 60-credit postgraduate module, and successful completion will earn you a Postgraduate Certificate in Online and Distance Education (PGCert ODE). There’s an introductory video here.

H880 start

Leave a comment

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!

Leave a comment

FutureLearn Fellow

FutureLearn Partners logoOn 20 August, I became a FutureLearn Fellow – an appointment that runs from August 2018 through to July 2020.

FutureLearn Fellows is a scheme launched in 2018 to recognise individuals across the FutureLearn partnership who contribute significantly to exploring the future of online social learning with FutureLearn. The aim is to provide richer support to partners who already carry out research on and around their courses on FutureLearn. The intention is to enhance both FutureLearn specifically and the understanding of online learning more generally.

I’m currently looking at conversational learning on a set of MOOCs put together by the OU, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham and Monash universities. My intention is to expand this work by understanding wider enrolment behaviours and patterns in cohorts taking history courses. I’m also studying educators and how they transition to becoming MOOC educators.

There are currently eight other FutureLearn Fellows, as well as two student fellows.

Lisa Harris, University of Exeter

Working on how MOOCs can be used to support the development of effective personal learning networks, drawing upon tools created with Nicholas Fair on the Learning in the Network Age MOOC while at University of Southampton. Also investigating how MOOCs can be integrated live within university modules and as building blocks of full degree programmes.

Philip Tubman, Lancaster University

Exploring the question of ‘How can an interactive visualisation encourage social learning practices on the FutureLearn platform?’ Exploring social learning practices using conversation as a unit of inquiry and has developed a taxonomy to indicate diversity and continuity in conversations.

Eileen Kennedy, University College London

How can we (re)design online discussion to make it a much more powerful pedagogy? Can we use carefully constructed discussion prompts (in combination with other tools or exercises) to elicit participants’ (mis)conceptions more effectively and scaffold mentor-learner or peer-peer feedback opportunities to provide more effective support? We will identify courses where participants are not currently engaging in substantial and interactive discussion in comments and redesign the prompt for subsequent runs to examine the effects. Working with Diana Laurillard and Yarik Kryvoi.

Neil Morris, University of Leeds

The impact of MOOCs on learning, university students, digital skills and employability; investigating the role for unbundled online education to support the digital skills gap. Using FutureLearn data to expand previously conducted research on these data with colleagues from the OU, Birmingham and international universities.

Diana Laurillard, University College London

Working through professionals, in challenging contexts in vocational education and in working with migrant populations in other countries, to develop courses that support them in using digital and non-digital methods with their own students and staff, in their diverse locations, and in sharing and collaborating on appropriate pedagogies with their peers on the courses. Working closely with Eileen Kennedy and Yarik Kryvoi.

Bronwen Swinnerton, University of Leeds

How learners comment in MOOCs – and if that bears significance on how they are retained. Looking at how their evaluation reports and wanting to extend beyond the just data offered – asking how else to evaluate it further or how does such an evaluation live beyond a project? Keen to take code that visualises FutureLearn course data and how this may be extended further into the Partnership.

Kerrie Douglas, Purdue University

Exploring learner behavioural data from pre and post -course surveys using the old SurveyMonkey data collection format. Analysing over 300k responses and cleaning up response data. Generating insight from post course surveys on what worked well, and what could be improved. Working with a number of students studying and researching at Purdue.

Giora Alexandron, Weizmann Institute

Learning analytics and educational data mining. Exploring issues such identifying ‘optimal’ learning paths and discovering resources that are helpful for answering questions correctly and identifying cheating, unauthorised collaboration, frustration, etc. Exploring courses form the learning design to understand the context and then using clickstream data, forum discussion, and meta data on course structure.

Leave a comment

FutureLearn Academic Network: London

Tweet about the event

One of my roles is the Academic Coordinator of the International FutureLearn Academic Network (FLAN). On 22 June 2018, we ran a meeting at the FutureLearn offices in Camden, London.

The theme of the meeting was ‘New Research Directions’. This was the network’s annual opportunity to catch up on the work of the many doctoral students who spend their lives researching aspects of FutureLearn.

Keynote speaker Alyssa Wise, from New York University, encouraged FLAN members to pool ideas and research, identify overarching concepts, and develop a framework that can be used to structure research into learning at scale. She asked two questions: What are the MOOC learning outcomes that are valuable, and that are valued? What are the unique qualities, the core characteristics, of MOOCS?

Alyssa identified massive scale as one of these core characteristics. Massive scale brings its own opportunities, challenges, interactions and pedagogies – all of which need to be investigated. At the same time, it’s also important to look at the smaller elements that make up the massive, taking opportunities to examine what is happening at a smaller scale, and exploring the diversity that is another core characteristic of MOOCs.

Rebecca Ferguson and Alyssa WIse

With keynote speaker Alyssa WIse

Several speakers focused on what we can tell about learning and teaching by analysing discussion threads. Alyssa talked about her work on the MOOCeology project, which looks at how people interact in large-scale learning environments. Her team are currently working on ways of telling automatically whether an online discussion is focused on course content. They’re also using network analysis to study content-related discussion networks. The people in these networks interact with each other, they keep engaging, and they keep the discussions going. Alyssa suggested that how people engage in content-related discussion could be one of the most important indicators of their learning.

Apart from teaching, learning and discussion, the other main focus of the day was on diversity and accessibility. Janesh Sanzgiri compared the experience of Indian learners on FutureLearn and on the Indian MOOC platform NPTEL. Shahrzad Ardavani and Monty King examined a MOOC-based CPD course for English Language teachers from different perspectives, including the perspective of learners in East Timor. Francisco Iniesto looked at the motivations of FutureLearn’s disabled learners, as well as the barriers they have to overcome. Each of these speakers identified ways in which FutureLearn could be made more accessible and inclusive.


Leave a comment