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FutureLearn is one year old!

As FutureLearn celebrates its first birthday, Head of Strategy and Insight, Kathryn Skelton talks about her experience as one of the first to join the team.

Believe it or not (and I hardly do), last Saturday was FutureLearn’s first birthday. To me, it seems like an incredibly long time ago as I’ve been involved since before FutureLearn even became a company, but it really has been just 12 short months. When I look back to last December, I see what incredible progress we’ve made, and it makes me very proud to be working alongside the great people who’ve made it all happen – and very excited to see what the next 12 months will bring.

Last December, FutureLearn was just three people – me, Simon (FutureLearn’s CEO) and Mark  (Head of Strategy at the Open University) – based at the OU campus in Milton Keynes. We were deadly secret, and our codename was “Project Kyloe”. (It’s a kind of highland cattle [1]. Obviously.) One year on, and quite a lot has changed…

FutureLearn is now a team of about 40 dedicated and inspiring people. We’ve got developers, designers, marketeers, content producers, and several other critical folk who are the glue that keep us all together. We’re not in Milton Keynes anymore either; instead of running from a couple of desks in the OU’s strategy office, we’re currently based at the OU offices in London – with the delights of Camden and Inverness Street markets on our doorstep (when we have time for lunch breaks, that is). And soon, we’re going to be moving on to our very own space at the British Library.

Last December, we launched with 12 great UK universities that wanted to be at the forefront of exploring MOOCs with us. Since then, 14 more universities – both UK and international – have come on board, plus three brilliant content partners – the British Library, British Museum and British Council. We’re delighted to have them all as partners; back in December 2012, I wouldn’t have dared to hope we’d be so lucky to have them involved and we’re thankful that they chose to come on this journey with us.

At this time last year, was just a glint in Simon’s eye (or possibly scribbled on the back of a beer mat). By January, we had a vision for what our platform was going to become, courtesy of our Head of Product, Matt Walton. By March, we had people building the first features of that platform in prototype. At the end of June, our team of developers had created a minimum viable product, and by the end of July, we were running trial courses with real learners.

Then, in September we unveiled the site in beta at a media event attended by the Right Honourable David Willets MP and our Chairman, Martin Bean, and the team celebrated in style with champagne and cupcakes. Our Chief Technology Officer, Joel, even let me push the button [2], which put the brand-new homepage live! But the most exciting part of the launch was watching the numbers climb up and up as people joined the first 20 courses from our partners.

And of course, the fun didn’t stop there. The first course, ‘The secret power of brands’, started in October, and FutureLearn is now being used by thousands of people every day, studying topics from behavioural psychology to dental photography. At FutureLearn, we love taking part in the courses, and reading learners’ comments and feedback. And we’re learning from everything we find out from learners – from their feedback, we’ve created a “like” button, a progress page, and now we’re piloting exams and Statements of Participation on a few courses.

I’ve just finished my first FutureLearn course and I’ve joined two of next year’s courses already (and I’ve got itchy fingers to sign up for more!). So far, we’ve announced  28 new courses for 2014, with many more to come, so I have plenty to choose from! I hope you – our learners, educators and partners – are as excited as I am to see what 2014 brings for FutureLearn.

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