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Fast-track growth for social learning as The Open University builds on success of FutureLearn

The Open University has announced it is to build on the early success of its social learning platform, FutureLearn, by providing extra investment to kick-start a new phase of development and establish its position as a world-leader in free online learning.

Since the first courses went live on FutureLearn in October 2013, the platform has seen rapid growth, with over 2.5 million registered users from more than 190 countries, studying more than 5 million courses between them. Over 50 of the world’s top universities and many other prestigious partners from the British Library and British Council to the European Space Agency are delivering courses on the FutureLearn platform.

Following this early success, The Open University is now set to make a significant further investment of £13 million in FutureLearn over the next three years. The new investment will help FutureLearn cement its position as a world-leader in the field of delivering social learning at a huge scale through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and move into the next phase of its development. It is expected the additional funding will enable FutureLearn to develop its operations in a number of ways, including:

  • Further developments to build on the success of its pioneering social learning approach, with over 40% of learners on FutureLearn courses socially active and many more learning vicariously from observing others’ conversations;
  • Making it even easier for learners to access courses, building on the platform’s ‘mobile-first’ strategy which has seen over 40% of learners take their courses on a mobile device;
  • Increased internationalisation of the platform, with extra support for learners whose first language is not English;
  • Developing its role as a provider of workplace learning, combining with major employers to provide learning solutions for staff;
  • Improving the flexibility and availability of courses. For example, introducing longer windows for courses that will allow learners more opportunities to join at a time that is convenient to them, enabling a more flexible course schedule and greater support for learning with a cohort and in groups;
  • Investing further in the tools to enable educators to create the best social learning experiences and to support the digital transformation of their businesses.

Vice-Chancellor of The Open University, Peter Horrocks, said:

“In just a few years, FutureLearn has grown its learner numbers rapidly and lived up to the OU’s historic mission of making learning open to all. The Open University’s investment in FutureLearn is a vote of confidence in UK educational innovation and the growing success of the platform. I call on all forward-thinking UK universities to join in with this commercial and pedagogical success story”.

FutureLearn was established by The Open University towards the end of 2012 as an extension of its mission to open up access to high quality education. The first courses went live in October 2013. Alongside other university partners, FutureLearn also works with leading centres of research excellence and specialist education providers such as the British Council, Creative Skillset and the European Space Agency.

Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson MP, said:

“Technology has transformed almost every aspect of our lives and online learning presents a real opportunity to inspire and engage students. The UK has a world class higher education system and it’s great to see the UK also showing leadership in the development of online learning. The next phase of this exciting evolution promises to deliver a more engaging learning experience for students as well as economic benefits for the UK’s successful education sector.”

Chief-Executive of FutureLearn, Simon Nelson, said:

“FutureLearn has made a fantastic start in delivering social learning at massive scale but there is still much we can do to build upon our position as a leader in this innovative space. As the reach and impact of the platform expands around the world, our goal to deliver the highest quality learning experience becomes more important than ever in continuing to benefit our learners, partners and The Open University.”

Earlier this year, FutureLearn delivered the world’s biggest ever MOOC, with more than 440,000 people signing up to an advanced English language course run by the British Council. Further examples of FutureLearn success stories can be found in the notes to editors.


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