Europe’s largest online course provider answers questions.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
Formed in December 2012 by The Open University, following the rapid development of massive open online courses (MOOCs) in the global higher education sector, FutureLearn began running their first courses in October 2013. The platform now has almost 6 million learners from over 190 countries around the world. Possibly the largest MOOC provider in Europe, they were created to encourage lifelong learning; courses on FutureLearn have a range of applications including general interest, introduction to university studies, further education and continuing professional development in vital sectors. They will run nearly 900 courses this year, from a continuously growing list of around 135 leading international institutions.
What we’re seeing in the world of education today is very exciting: the way students interact is very different to traditional methods of communication and therefore the way we deliver content needs to meet this demand.
Simon Nelson, their CEO, talks about their tremendous growth, partnerships, and the future of a company excited about the future of learning.
You’ve just announced your first U.S. partners. How significant a step forward is this for you? What are your motivations for entering the U.S. market?
Simon: We are extremely excited to be in a position to enter the U.S. market. Nearly 60 percent of our partner universities are international and over 75 percent of our learners are based outside of the UK. We are a very international company and the U.S. market was the obvious next step for us.
Tell us a bit more about your U.S. partners and what kind of courses they’ll be running on your platform?
Simon: We have partnered with five key university universities so far: American University, Colorado State University, Penn State University, Purdue University and UVA Darden School of Business. More recently, we announced our first U.S. member association partner, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) who are launching courses aimed at teachers across the globe.
The partners I’ve mentioned so far have already started launching their courses on our platform and range from Data Science, to Geography, Communication and Business and Management.
What value do you bring to the U.S. higher education market?
Simon: Both our university partners and learners say they choose us for our interactive courses that can be taken in a modular and flexible way. The FutureLearn educational approach centers on a social learning pedagogy, which is based on over 50 years of experience in digital storytelling and distance learning from FutureLearn and the OU. Our courses incorporate the distinctive FutureLearn storytelling techniques, guiding learners through a compelling narrative composed of videos, articles, case studies and rich media features. Learners engage in curated conversations throughout the educational material, to enhance their understanding and to allow them to learn from each other in any location or time zone.
Is higher education adapting quickly enough to meet the needs of learners to help them thrive in the new environment? Is it now really ‘digital’s’ time?
Simon: I know that many of our partners are concerned that their pace of change isn’t what they would want it to be to meet the needs of learners today and to capitalize on the opportunities (and navigate the challenges) that today’s market presents. ‘Digital’ shouldn’t be seen as a strategic challenge for universities, but rather a lens through which universities should be tackling those obstacles. Digital has a key role to play as a fundamental part of the international higher education offer.
Ultimately, technology and online learning platforms are the catalyst and the enablers for transformation in education.
Your thoughts on the state of education in the world today?
Simon: What we’re seeing in the world of education today is very exciting: the way students interact is very different to traditional methods of communication and therefore the way we deliver content needs to meet this demand. We’re also seeing a bridge forming between the academic and the working world, inviting a wider learner base into the education sphere; in response to societal changes, people are looking to upskill in order to stay relevant in the job market and are therefore re-entering or entering the education field for the first time to equip themselves in vocational areas.
What is technology’s role in education?
Simon: Ultimately, technology and online learning platforms are the catalyst and the enablers for transformation in education. In terms of our role as a technology provider, we would like to be seen as a digital partner to companies, institutions and universities, helping universities to accelerate their digital initiatives and to build upon these services to take advantage of global opportunities.
Thoughts on future trends to watch in the edtech space?
Simon: As technology continues to evolve, I see more and more control passing to the learner: where they study, when they study, what they study and how they choose to manage the process. Courses and qualifications can now be divided and securely tested so that as this trend continues, edtech will enable learners to construct their own fit for purposes education at their convenience. Furthermore, as devices continue to get more and more sophisticated, the more interactive, motivating content can be made for the learner.
Recently, FutureLearn launched its first set of online degrees with our Australian partner, Deakin University. We’re delighted to be working with Deakin on this and I’m confident other partners will follow this trend, offering learners across the globe the chance to have an international university experience by completing a university degree fully online.
Virtual reality is also creating a lot of noise, something I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about. Our partner, City University of Hong Kong, is launching a course: “Virtual Hong Kong: New World, Old Traditions” which will be starting on 24th April and will offer learners a truly immersive learning experience.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]