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FutureLearn’s favourite moments in learning

Have a look behind the scenes at FutureLearn as we share some of our favourite learning moments.

At FutureLearn we get the chance to witness a lot of special moments in learning. In this post David, who works with the Content team, shares some favourites.

futurelearn learning moments

Underneath a wall emblazoned with our mission “to pioneer the best learning experiences for everyone, anywhere” sits the Content team, a mixture of Partnership Managers and domain specialists who work with our partnership of universities and organisations to help create all of the courses on FutureLearn.

While some of our learners have made herculean commitments to learning, completing dozens of courses or sometimes repeating the same course numerous times to enjoy the new communities and conversations that form, the Partnership Managers have collectively viewed 24,795 steps across 820 unique runs of courses (and counting). We know our content. We live with it every day, strive to find ways to make it more effective and more understandable, and wear it on our sleeves when it doesn’t work.

Everyone in the team falls in love with certain Steps, whether it is logical arguments about blue cheese and zebras in “Logical and Critical Thinking” or the beginning of Billy’s story from “Caring for Vulnerable Children”. Asking aloud “has anyone seen an example of…?” is met with a ripple of examples and recollections from around the world and our partnership.

But learning experiences transcend artefacts or pieces of media. They are perhaps more than anything moments that can lead to powerful realisations, confirmations or revelations for our learners. Maybe for one learner. Maybe for hundreds of thousands. In this post, we want to pick out our favourite moments of learning.

Sometimes great learning moments happen by chance…

Sometimes, serendipity is responsible for these moments. For instance, in the first run of the British Council’s “Exploring English: Language and Culture” a simple misunderstanding led to a lovely discussion – all before the educator turned up:


…but usually they happen through hard work

More often than not however, these moments come about through careful planning and design by our excellent partners combined with the insight and experience of FutureLearn staff. When working with partners, we often reuse some variation of this slide:


Telling stories, provoking conversation and celebrating progress are at the core of the platform we have built and the vision we share with our partners. It’s our product vision and a mantra we work by. When we induct new educators into the FutureLearn family and discuss potential new courses, these are the cornerstones of our discussions.

Learning can be inspired by stories

Stories are special; they mean more to us than other forms of writing. We often talk about our courses being stories, or stories being courses. One of our favorite examples of the former is the story of Billy in “Caring for Vulnerable Children”.

In fact, ‘Billy’ recently won an award.

Each week, learners enrolled on this course will see a snapshot of Billy’s story, linking the theoretical and legislative rhetoric they have explored to the reality of the world. By the end of the course, there is a palpable attachment to this fictional, but powerful character and learners don’t just see the importance of the subject, they also see how small details play out and affect people’s’ lives.


Learning can come from conversation

One of the biggest challenges for MOOCs is that of “isolated individuals as students”: we have tens of thousands of learners together, but it is hard for them to feel anything but alone. Provoking conversation, and designing spaces for learning-focused discussion can help, but we have other opportunities to use massive-scale for more than press headlines. As I helped make it, I am somewhat biased towards this next example. The University of Sheffield’s “Measuring and Valuing Health” features several small interactive exercises. One is a simulation of a ‘Time Trade-Off’ activity that asks learners to consider how they value healthy life states. We can then show learners what their results mean, and how they sit within the context of the rest of their peers on the course. We can make use of “massive”. Most importantly however, we can present this information to learners and simply ask them “how does this make you feel?”, “why did you say this?” and “are you surprised by the results?” We can provoke meaningful, learning-focused conversation.

Find this step here.

Similarly, “Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life” invites learners to share imagery they associate with a given theme, and “Exploring Play” sees them add a pin to a map along with a memory of their first toy. Exploring these rich resources paints a vivid picture of how our growing and international users see the world, and allows them to look inward and reflect on their own world.

Learning happens through celebrating progress

The to do list from our Blended Learning course.

Repositioning assessment from that scary test we all did at school, to a powerful learning experience that helps us close the gap between where we are now, and where we want to be is at the core of our approach. This isn’t new—Dylan William and Paul Black massively influenced UK school education with their work “Inside the Black Box” which espoused the value of this formative-style of assessment (you can even do a FutureLearn course on it!).

In my first week with FutureLearn—two and half years ago—we shipped the beginning of our Peer Review functionality. We wanted to let learners talk about each other’s work rather than grading it. This has been used in numerous courses since, seeing learners develop research proposals, write academic literature reviews, and share thousands of snippets of creative writing. We know that 95% find the feedback they receive helpful.

In week four of “Blended Learning Essentials: Getting Started”, thousands of learners will share plans for learning activities and provide valuable feedback and comment on the submissions of others. Everyone wins here. Learners get help and guidance in improving their practice, but also can access and reflect on as many ideas as they wish to review.

In conclusion – we’re privileged to watch learning in action, it makes all the work worth it. And it’s exciting to see what new learning moments might happen next. No one can know exactly what this post might contain if it was written again a year from now, but I can guarantee it will still feature a hard working team trying make learning even better.

Excited by some of the learning in this post? You can join the courses mentioned.

Or if these aren’t for you, have a look at the rest of our courses.

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