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Celebrating progress: our first year of courses and what lies ahead

As part of our first birthday celebrations, Matt Walton, our Head of Product, looks back at our first 12 months of courses and discusses what lies ahead for FutureLearn.

Celebrating FutureLearn's first year of courses

A year ago today, we ran our first ever course on FutureLearn. When we opened our doors to the world, we put the word “beta” by our logo to show that this was just the start, that we weren’t done and that we were still learning. We launched our product as quickly as we could, in its simplest possible form, with the aim of developing it in the open, learning as we went, very much informed by our users: learners and educators.

Today, we’re removing the “beta” label that has sat next to our logo for the last 12 months and celebrating what we’re calling Version 1.0. We’re still far from done, but it feels like the right moment to mark the beginning of growing up.

Like all birthdays, it’s a good time to look back at what we’ve achieved over the last year and look ahead to where we plan to take FutureLearn over the next 12 months.

12 months of progress

Since we launched, more than 650,000 people have made 1.4 million course sign ups. 18.9 million steps have been completed and 2.1 million comments have been posted. There are now 133 courses online, covering a huge range of subjects. You can see some more remarkable numbers in our new interactive.

We’ve seen incredibly high rates of full participation (which we define as learners that complete the majority of steps and all of the assessment), with 22% of learners that start a course, fully participating.

We’ve introduced an innovative new approach to peer review, encouraging learners to provide feedback on each other’s work. We don’t enforce deadlines and to date, more than 26,000 assignments have been reviewed by fellow learners, normally within four hours of them being written and every single one of them getting at least one review.

We’ve improved our discussion tools, introducing a “like” button, plus more ways to filter and make sense of the massive conversation, and added notifications of replies and a range of other improvements. These have resulted in nearly half our learners taking part in discussions, with many more vicariously learning from others.

We now offer eye-catching, printed Statements of Participation on all of our courses and significant numbers of learners eligible are choosing to buy them. There’s also now a progress page allowing you to see at anytime how much of the course you’ve completed.

We’ve introduced a new video player, made the experience of tests and quizzes better, improved our emails, added support for things like maths notation and literary quotations, and are ensuring that our platform is AA rated in terms of accessibility for learners with specific needs wherever possible.

We believe our courses and product have now matured to the point at which we can proudly remove the “beta,” work in progress label. And we also believe that because of the feedback we’ve been hearing from our learners – and some of the statistics we’ve mentioned above – we can confidently say that FutureLearn runs the best free online courses in the world. And so we’ve decided to put it on our homepage.

Our vision for the future

We’re pleased with our progress, but we’ve only just got started. Our vision is to pioneer the best learning experiences for everyone, anywhere. Version 1.0 is just the beginning, the first step on the road to this rather hairy and audacious goal.

The best learning experiences

We believe the best learning experiences are ones that are effective and enjoyable. The vision for our product is to inspire learners through storytelling, provoking conversations and celebrating progress.

What do we mean by storytelling? We want to take you on a journey. Our courses have a beginning, a middle and an end. They are an event, and a highly social one. You should be inspired to keep coming back, have the questions you’ve asked answered and develop a relationship with the person telling you the “story” – the lead educators. We want to improve the storytelling, starting the moment that you press the button to join a course.

Provoking conversation is all about “social learning.” Conversation is already at the heart of our platform, but we want to make it a more satisfying and useful experience. We want to help you find and invite your friends. We want to introduce you to the people you will find most inspiring and who are most likely to help you learn. We want to create places for discussions to happen in more intimate ways alongside the serendipity and collective wisdom that happens within crowds. And we want to help people engage in a way that leads to a much deeper understanding of a topic than simply watching, listening and reading can ever achieve.

Celebrating progress and making the learning visible is core to the experience. We’ve already made a start on helping you see the progress that you’re making through a course. We want to introduce more ways to encourage you to reflect on, celebrate and share what you’ve learnt. We want to help you set yourself goals and assess whether you think you’ve met them. We want to use the crowd to help you work out how good your assignment is, compared with everybody else’s. And we want to improve the items we offer as proof of what you’ve learnt – to help you provide more robust evidence of what you did, show the “footprints” of your learning and prove that it was definitely you that did it, in a way that makes it useful to employers and others that might recognise it.

Our aim is always provide the highest possible quality, from our courses, to our customer service, to the proof you receive of what you’ve learnt, to the user experience of our product.

Everyone, anywhere

Our mission is to make education as accessible as we can to as many people as we can, and this is about making courses that can be easily discovered and shared.

Soon, we plan to make all of the content on our courses open. We think that allowing as many people to find, enjoy and share parts of our courses is the best way to spread the word, enabling people to get a taste of what’s on offer and encouraging them to sign up to our courses. This will also allow us to make available thousands of pages of educational resources for people to use and link to. And we’ll be working on ways to enable learners to share their achievements with others.

We aim to better support learners whose first language isn’t English and make the most of our growing raft of international partners.

Our courses are already designed to work seamlessly on tablet, mobile and all common internet connected devices (something that sets us apart from other platforms), but we’d like to expand on the vision of ‘anywhere’ by making elements of our courses work when you’re offline.

We’re already seeing our partners running open courses alongside on-campus courses, blurring the boundaries between online and face-to-face learning, and we aim to support massive blended learning wherever we can for the benefit of all of our learners.

Pioneering

We believe the secret of our innovation lies not just in what we’re doing, but in how we’re doing it. We don’t think anyone has yet created a truly great, enjoyable and effective online learning product and it’s our mission to do so. Much of what we do is about bringing together what’s been learnt from years of research into effective teaching in classrooms, with the power of the social web, plus best practice for delivering digital products that people love and understand.

Put simply, we want to connect people and ideas. We’ve begun our pioneering journey. There’s a lot to do. But we think it’s going to be an enjoyable ride. Here’s to the next 12 months.

Want to know what else is going on to celebrate our first birthday – and the many partners and learners who’ve been part of the FutureLearn journey so far? Read our quick summary.

Category FutureLearn news, Making FutureLearn