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FutureLearn Festival of Learning June 2020

festival of learning sign

Two weeks ago, FutureLearn’s first ever virtual conference took place. FutureLearn’s Festival of Learning took place between 22-26 June 2020 and explored how education, healthcare and business will evolve in a post-COVID world, how we can all collaborate to achieve great things in the wake of upheaval, and the importance of learning together.

The festival was divided into 4 key tracks – Teaching After COVID-19, Learning Together, Supporting Healthcare, and Future Proofing Business, with keynotes, panels, masterclasses and more taking place every day throughout the festival. 


Teaching after COVID-19

The week opened with a keynote from Lord David Puttnam CBE titled Education’s Darwinian Moment, so called because Lord Puttnam believes “just as after the publication of On the Origin of Species, there was no going back. People had to deal with the world as Darwin had revealed it. I think that the post-COVID world is going to be an extraordinarily exciting place, but a very very challenging place.”

The session was introduced by FutureLearn CEO, Simon Nelson, who discussed the changes we’ve seen in online learning behaviour over the last few months and speculated over what the future of education may have in store. Lord Puttnam then discussed a little of his experience of lockdown, how he’s managed to continue educating students remotely and his work over the last year as part of a parliamentary select committee looking at the impact of digital technologies.

Later in the week, we joined the second teaching session, a panel titled Educating the Educators chaired by Matt Jenner, Head of Learning at FutureLearn. This panel reflected on FutureLearn’s first ever own-branded course, a rapid response short course called How to Teach Online: Provisioning Continuity for Students. This course was built especially to support educators faced with the sudden shift to teaching online towards the start of 2020, and was built in just 10 days. In this panel, four mentors from the course joined Matt to discuss their experience of supporting the teaching community through this transition. Discussion was lively and saw many educators from around the world asking questions in the live chat, considering what the future of teaching may look like.

The final teaching session of the week was a Q&A, Mental Welling for Educators and Students, which brought together four brilliant partners involved in some of the top mental wellbeing courses on the FutureLearn platform. During the Q&A, panellists looked specifically at how we support students and teachers during this period of upheaval. The discussion was chaired by Finola Lang, Global Education Lead at FutureLearn, and covered topics such as spotting signs that a colleague or student needs extra support, working with different age groups, welcoming September intakes and more.


Learning Together

The Learning track was opened by Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education & External Officer at Tes Global. His keynote was titled Embedding the new realities of time and space for learning and offered a frank discussion around how technology can offer flexibility in where and when learning can take place. Lord Knight looked at the current situation in which many are home-schooling and considered how digital tools support this and empower learners and teachers to have more individualised experience. He believes one of the positives this challenge has presented is that “parents, those that have been able to get involved in their childrens’ learning, have been able to see how their child learns, they’ve been able to see the reality of how difficult it is for teachers, but they’ve also been able to see what sort of learning their child responds to and what they find disengaging.”

On the Wednesday of the Festival, FutureLearn’s own Learning Design team, made up of Matt Jenner, Monty King and Felicity Parsisson, ran Learning Design Masterclasses asynchronously throughout the day to over 500 attendees. During the sessions, these attendees had the chance to understand how our learning designers approach building online courses and were invited to take part in some practical learning design by participating in an online competition. You can watch one of these masterclasses back here and enter the competition here, the deadline for this is 10 July 2020.


Supporting Healthcare 

We had two healthcare sessions over the Festival of Learning, the first, a keynote by Dean Patricia Davidson from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, considered whether COVID-19 was a Watershed moment in Higher Education. Hosted by Holly Shifflet, Head of Partnerships at FutureLearn, Dean Davidson shared an overview of the university in contemporary society, outlined social, economic and political factors influencing higher education worldwide, discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the sector and presented approaches to invigorate the social contract of universities with society. At the end of her session she took questions from attendees and there was vibrant discussion around how the higher education sector must evolve to work more closely with industry amongst other things.

The second healthcare session came in the form of a panel titled Community through Crisis: COVID-19 and Healthcare Education, chaired by Helen Fuller, Global Healthcare Lead at FutureLearn. Helen was joined by representatives from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University of Edinburgh, St George’s and FIND. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare sector has faced a number of challenges beyond the obvious threat to public health. This session explored how these teams responded by rapidly building courses and panellists shared their experiences of working quickly and collaboratively in the face of crisis, building courses for frontline workers and the public on COVID-19.


Future Proofing Business

Our first business session of the week was titled How is Learning and Development Future Proofing your Business? Chaired by Catalina Schveninger, Chief People Officer at FutureLearn, who was joined by a panel of business brains from the Foreign Commonwealth Office, Visa and NilesNolen. The session was first introduced by Ron Kalifa OBE, Chairman of the Board for FutureLearn, who discussed the impact he himself has witnessed of COVID-19 on business and learning. He then handed over to the panel who considered the crucial role of learning and development in ensuring your business thrives through challenging times and offered tips and tools to help those struggling in the difficult climate.

The whole festival concluded with a keynote by Sherry Coutu CBE, who presented a review of the solutions available to small businesses and charities facing challenges due to COVID-19 dramatically reducing their revenues. Sherry, herself a serial entrepreneur and angel investor who serves on the boards of companies, charities, and universities, gave an inspirational talk looking at her activity during the pandemic and how we help businesses survive and thrive through digital. 


Overall FutureLearn’s inaugural festival was a success, and thank you to all those who attended the sessions live or have taken time to watch them back. Plans are already underway for the next Festival of Learning, so watch this space for more details of how we can celebrate the crucial role of learning together once again.

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