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Insights from the FutureLearn APAC Partners’ Forum

Author: Nigel Smith, MD of Courses and Learning at FutureLearn

During the last week of November, FutureLearn held its annual Asia-Pacific Partners’ Forum at The University of Melbourne in Australia. Melbourne has become an increasingly important city for us. Not only do we partner with four universities there but it’s also home to our co-owners SEEK who joined the UK’s Open University as investors in April this year. 

The Partners’ Forum is an opportunity for us to share our strategy and insights with our partners and crucially for partners to learn from each other. 

This year, we started with Josh Nester, SEEK’s Education Director, talking about the digital disruption of higher education and the workplace and what opportunities that affords. Josh pointed out that in some sectors, like technology, universities were losing out to bootcamps such as General Assembly or online providers such as Udemy that can develop courses that meet specific skills gaps much more rapidly than is common in higher education. But Josh also reminded us that university brands still have enormous cachet and are seen as beacons for trust and quality, and when aligned to leading industry brands, can deliver significant opportunities for career-focussed learners around the world.   

This theme was picked up by our CEO Simon Nelson who announced the imminent launch of FutureLearn’s first microcredentials. These are credit-bearing courses designed to help people build specialised skills relevant to their career. They typically require more than 100 hours of study and  topics on offer are those where we know there’s significant employer demand. 

Throughout the forum, and during our other meetings with partners, we were met with excitement and enthusiasm for the microcredential concept and we’re looking forward to seeing learners join the first ones in 2020. 

Seeing the impact FutureLearn courses can have first-hand is always a highlight of these events and we were lucky to hear directly from four people who’d taken FutureLearn courses. Across the board we heard how they’d not only learnt new skills but also welcomed the flexibility that allowed them to take courses alongside their work and studies. One learner had even relocated from Brazil to study at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia based on their experience of taking one of their FutureLearn courses.       

Partners had the opportunity to learn from each other via a series of talks focussed on their own experiences of working with FutureLearn. The University of Newcastle Australia are the first of our partners to teach a full undergraduate degrees on FutureLearn. One of the great benefits they talked about, in terms of the students on their Bachelor of Arts online degree experiencing, was having the opportunity to interact with learners from around the globe who had very different perspectives on the material being taught. As someone who works for FutureLearn it is always incredibly gratifying to hear first-hand accounts of how the social learning pedagogy that underpins what we do working so effectively.  

We heard similar benefits from the University of Melbourne, whose Nossal Institute for Global Health have collaborated with UNICEF on a course called Health Systems Strengthening. This was specifically aimed for health professionals in Asia and Africa. These learners not only gained insight from experts in the field but also from each other. We even heard that the head of policy in one target country’s ministry of health said “this course changed my life.” 

FutureLearn’s purpose is to transform access to education so it was wonderful to hear numerous examples of enabling our partners to do just that.  

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