At FutureLearn, we want to inspire learning for life. That’s why we offer a diverse selection of free, high quality online courses and content from some of the world’s leading universities and other outstanding cultural institutions.
Our aim is to connect learners from all over the globe with high quality educators and with each other. We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, with plenty of opportunities to discuss and reflect on what you’ve studied, in order to make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
Courses are delivered one step at a time and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life, rather than your life around learning.
We are a private company wholly owned by the Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education. Our partners include over 80 of the best UK and international universities, as well as institutions with a huge archive of cultural and educational material, including the British Council, the British Library, and the British Museum.
Why it works
FutureLearn offers you a powerful new way to learn online. Every course has been designed according to principles of effective learning, through storytelling, discussion, visible learning, and using community support to celebrate progress.
Learning through storytelling
Each partner university has designed a complete learning experience, presented by leading academics in their field. Rather than broadcast long classroom lectures, ideas are introduced via high quality videos and articles. You can then discuss what you’ve learned, testing your new knowledge with interactive quizzes that offer helpful responses and the opportunity to try again if an answer is wrong. Every course tells a story, step by step, with challenges and helpful tips along the way, to test and build your understanding.
Discussion for learning
We learn best when we share and debate ideas with fellow learners, to understand their different experiences and perspectives and to fill the gaps in our own knowledge. But not everyone likes being social, so rather than sending our learners off to separate discussion forums, you can add your comments alongside the content.
You can start by reading what other people have to say about the topic, and then join in when you’re ready. If you particularly like a comment, you can choose to follow its author so that you can easily find the people and comments that are of the most interest to you.
We’ll be building on these concepts of ‘discussion in context’ and ‘following’ over the coming months, so that social learning feels less like a forced conversation and more like a chat with friends about your ideas and what you’ve learned.
One way to enhance learning is to make the process visible, so that you know what is coming next, where you are in the course and how far you have come. The To Do list gives you an overview of the course, showing the activities for each week, and keeping a record of what you’ve completed.
The profile page provides a summary of your own activity, including your courses and any comments you have made. We shall be extending these with further signposts for the course and indications of your progress.
Community supported learning
An intensive tutoring model can’t work for massive-scale free courses, so we need to offer online support without a large network of tutors. The solution is to harness the power of the community, where learners can make immediate use of their newly acquired skills by sharing their knowledge with their peers.
Following other learners is part of a powerful system we are building that will allow you to acknowledge good contributions and promote people who offer helpful advice, and to develop your own reputation. In this way, success comes not just from passing an assignment and completing a course, but also from making a contribution to the FutureLearn community.
Massive-scale social learning
All these approaches need to work with huge numbers of learners, so that comments don’t just flash past, and reputations can be built over time. That’s why we decided to create a new massive-scale social learning platform, drawing on expertise from The Open University, BBC, social media designers, as well as our FutureLearn partners. It’s a new way of learning.
Visible learning is inspired by the work of John Hattie, to find out more, visit visible-learning.org.
Ten principles that guide how we design and build FutureLearn.
Wherever possible, we encourage our partners to make course content open and discoverable, to link out to the best of the web and take part in the online discussion. We strive to make course content accessible on as many devices as possible and to all visitors. We share our development process and the reasoning behind our business decisions via channels such as our blog.
Listen to our learners
Feedback from our learners is at the heart of our development process: both in terms of course content and features of the platform. We constantly iterate and improve based on feedback and observing how people are learning. We release features as quickly as possible and learn from how real people use them. And then we make them better.
Narrative is important. We want to inspire our learners to go on a journey and know where they are and where to go next. The narrative includes times to watch, listen and read, space for conversation, moments of quiet reflection and climaxes of assessment. We use storytelling to communicate ideas in fun and engaging ways. And we always let learners catch up.
Conversation happens in context and is integral to the learning experience. Social interactions are open by default to encourage vicarious learning and allow all to benefit from the discussion. We encourage everyone to be sociable because one of the best ways to learn is through talking with others.
We seize the opportunities that a large number of people learning together affords: the specialist knowledge that exists in the group; the number of people online together at one time; the way ideas flow around a network; and how crowds can help surface the best content. And we learn from watching how a large group of learners behave.
We encourage learners to make connections to provide mutual support, challenge their ideas and remove the loneliness of distance learning. We create spaces for small groups to come together and reach shared understandings.
Keep it simple
We try to avoid complexity wherever possible. We use down-to-earth language and make the experience as friendly and welcoming as we can, and encourage our partners to the same. We design for the common use cases. If a feature is useful but only to a few, we will resist the temptation to include it, in order to keep the platform easy to use by all.
Learn from others
We borrow from the best of broadcasting, games and social media to create an engaging and enjoyable learning experience. We draw on the vast knowledge and experience that exists in The Open University and among our consortium of partners, who will also share their wealth of experience as educators with each other, to create the best possible final product.
We motivate our learners by breaking the journey into small steps. Each step is bite-sized to make the learning visible, help learners see progress quickly and regularly reflect on what they have learnt. We celebrate every step of progress, both small and large. There is no such thing as dropout: we encourage learners to take from the experience as little or as much as they desire.
We want to create a community of lifelong learners, and provide the stepping stones from one journey to the next. Our visitors are FutureLearners, not students of a particular university.