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OU and Futurelearn chiefs lead innovation master class at Nesta

Martin Bean and Simon Nelson share lessons on innovating and driving innovation within education and beyond at Nesta

Today, Martin Bean, The Open University Vice-Chancellor and Simon Nelson, Launch CEO of Futurelearn, shared their lessons for innovators at a packed event at Nesta, an independent charity which helps people and organisations bring great ideas to life.

Martin Bean and Simon Nelson at Nesta
Martin Bean and Simon Nelson at Nesta (photo by Nesta)

And Martin and Simon should know a thing or two about innovation. Martin has more than 25 years’ experience working at the intersection between education and technology; before joining the OU he was General Manager within Microsoft’s Worldwide Education Products Group where he focused on developing solutions to help the global education community address its challenges. Simon was one of the key architects of BBC Online, where he helped develop the iPlayer. Since then, he has advised companies like Myspace, Phaidon Press and Random House on digital strategy and organisational transformation.

Martin kicked off proceedings with: ‘think big and act bigger! Innovation isn’t focusing on today’s problems but looking at solutions for tomorrow’s’. With this in mind he concentrated the rest of his presentation on eight key lessons for innovators, drawing on his own personal experiences.

Martin Bean’s 8 lessons for innovators:

  1. Be bold. Challenge and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Work out where you want to be and how you’ll get there.
  2. Get off the mark! Make a start and keep ‘iterating the idea’.
  3. Get the people around you involved. You can’t do it all by yourself.
  4. Bring governance with you in real time. Don’t force a fully formed idea on to top management, get them involved early.
  5. Deadlines matter. Fear of the unknown can easily lead to inertia so you need to move quickly on your ideas.
  6. Show leadership. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get involved.
  7. Enrol early adopters and listen to their ideas.
  8. Go live with a bang! If you don’t have marketing expertise, bring on board someone who does.

Simon then took the reins with his own three insights on driving innovation:

  • Innovation is hard work!
  • Your idea doesn’t have to be niche. Build on the best of what’s already out there.
  • Develop your core strengths.

The presentations were followed with a lively question and answer session from the floor about the role of innovation in the development of Futurelearn and in Higher Education more widely. On this point Martin said that Futurelearn would be a ‘self-forming community of innovators’, and that the market for online HE is ‘wide open for innovation’.

Asked how Futurelearn would be different, Martin replied that they had no interest in merely replicating existing MOOCs, and that the quality of the content, the teaching and the user experience would define the offer. Simon went further by saying Futurelearn needs to create the spark to ignite other education organisations and partners to innovate.

Questioned on their seven year vision for Futurelearn Martin said they wanted to see a significant increase in the numbers of people accessing university teaching by removing the cost.

How does CEO Simon Nelson sum up Futurelearn’s potential to innovate? “It’s the most exciting game in town”, he said.

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