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Webby Award Entry, December 2016: FutureLearn

Overall category: Website, education

Description: Sites that are educational, promote education or provide online curriculum or education services.  This category includes educational content for children or adults, resources for educators, and “distance learning” courses.  Does not include school sites.


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Founded in 2013, FutureLearn is an education technology start-up that delivers high quality Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to 5.4 million learners from more than 190 countries around the world. We offer more than 500 free courses designed to support learning through conversation, from globally renowned UK and international universities, leading organisations such as the British Council, Raspberry Pi, Houses of Parliament and the European Space Agency.

Who are we?

Summary: Why are we entering?

Through our platform, we are changing the way international universities are able to deliver higher education and reach more students.  We are leading the way globally on innovative delivery of degree course material so students can study degrees from anywhere, on any device and can earn their qualification in a modular way.

We are the partner of choice for over 100+ leading international universities and institutions because we have developed an approach to distance learning that is specifically designed for an online environment.  Our content presentation techniques use the very best digital storytelling tools, integrating video, social media, quizzes and discussion groups that bring content to life for the learner.


Key achievements:

Global first: We recently launched 6 full postgraduate degrees with Deakin University. This is the first time a MOOC (massive open online courses) platform has launched such a range of degrees entirely over its online platform and means that students from all over the world can earn their degree from this Australian university, anywhere, at any time and on any device.

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Widening participation: We offer degree course material for learners to try for free, giving insight into premium content for learners everywhere to see if they want to progress to the next level of higher education.

Reach: We now have over 5 million learners from all over the world, from all parts of society and we are growing fast. Click here to hear from them directly…

International perspective: Used not only for distance learning, some universities use our courses to bring an international perspective into the classroom. Our courses are interspersed into a traditional degree so that students can learn with an international cohort on sections of the course.

Pioneering better outcomes: We believe we are changing the face of delivering education at scale and at a distance through our focus on user experience. We achieve more interaction and can prove better learning outcomes on our free courses than any of our competitors due to our expertise in course design.


How do we deliver our courses?

Online courses are complex systems that must balance focus on pedagogy, technology, resources, social and cultural context, cost benefits and learning outcomes. We work closely with our partners to guide them through the process and help them do develop the most engaging and seamless experience for the end user.

The FutureLearn platform, course creator and partner website have been designed to make the pedagogy explicit, based on an approach of ‘social learning’, otherwise known as ‘learning through conversation’.

FutureLearn courses are structured into steps, activities and weeks (moving away from traditional content, units and modules). ‘Steps’ enable learners to hold conversations in the context of educational content. ‘Activities’ are ways of organising steps to support active learning. ‘Weeks’ suggest a progression of activities and building of ideas over time.

We have educators, not instructors. The aim is for educators to support the building of knowledge, rather than to instruct.

The platform supports comment and discussion, not forums. Comments and discussions are more informal conversation that is placed immediately by the learning text than a separated forum.

Cohorts of students and comments run all day and all night and are from all over the world meaning that our students gain a truly international perspective.

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Comments and discussion run alongside course content allowing students to learn from each other as well as from educators.

What degrees have we launched?

Deakin University, Australia.  

The full degrees recognised through the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) launching on FutureLearn will be:

  •     Master of Cyber Security (AQF, Level 9)
  •     Master of Development and Humanitarian Action (AQF, Level 9)
  •     Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education (AQF, Level 8)
  •     Graduate Diploma of Property (AQF, Level 9)
  •     Master of Professional Practice (Information Technology) (AQF, Level 9)
  •     Master of Professional Practice (Financial Planning) (AQF, Level 9).

University of Leeds

  • 10 credits for the Geography undergraduate degree
  • The Open University
  • 15 credits for the MBA
  • 30 credits for the BA in Business Management

What evidence do we have that we have the best approach to online education?  

We have industry leading completion rates for our courses

One of the key measures of the success of an academic approach are completion rates. 25% of people who start a free course on FutureLearn complete the majority of steps and all the assessments, roughly double the completion rates that other providers report (these are commonly quoted at 5-10%). On some courses it is as high as 40%.

“I have completed over a dozen courses and think that I have learned a lot and had a lot of fun” (66-75, male , UK)

We have exceptionally high retention and learner satisfaction rates

The entire FutureLearn offering is designed to support learning through conversation in recognition of the fact that this helps with the learning process and makes the learning environment collaborative.   Our approach includes pre-course conversations, comments and replies alongside each step, peer review, discussion steps and Study Groups. Course teams are encouraged to design their courses around social learning.

“FL is more engaging at the forum level. It’s more than just videos and quizzes” (FutureLearn brand research July 2016)

“I’ve learned so much, and there’s so much opportunity to learn more. While I have only completed and participated in a few classes, the classes have given me goals and hope. Things to look forward to and motivate me.” (16-18 female, USA)

A high proportion of our learners choose to interact with the social learning opportunities

On average we have 34% social learners on our courses (that is, learners who make comments and engage in conversations). For our top 75 most social courses, over half of all learners participate in conversations on the course content through actively commenting.

Learners’ comments themselves become a rich source of learning material for the learning community, meaning that even those who prefer not to comment are benefitting from the social elements of the course.

“The discussions from fellow students are immensely informative, sometimes even more than the course content” (FutureLearn brand research July 2016)

The team that built FutureLearn are world experts in the areas of social learning, digital storytelling and learner experience

Developed by the Open University, FutureLearn draws on their considerable wealth of 50 years experience in distance and online learning. World-renowned leaders in the area of conversational/social learning helped to form the pedagogy and approach behind the FutureLearn platform. Leading academics in the field of social learning such as Mike Sharples, Rebecca Ferguson, Diana Laurillard have all helped to frame the FutureLearn platform with their pioneering academic thinking in this area.

We are experts on digital storytelling. 

Our company leaders nearly all have extensive BBC digital experience and they are experts in how to make digital content engaging.

We are pioneers in visual design and interaction.

The company has world leaders in developing delightful, responsive and accessible software platforms.

We have world-class partners and achieve world firsts

More and more of the world’s universities want to work with us and pay to put their content out over our platform. Some of the courses we run are degree level which require rigorous assessment. We were the first to introduce a whole suite of postgraduate degrees entirely on our platform.