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UK MOOCs platform, FutureLearn, launches first courses

The Open University’s FutureLearn, the UK’s first partnership platform for MOOCs – massive open online courses – last week began offering access to what it describes as “free, high quality courses” from some of its 20 university partners.

The website went live as a beta test, which will run until early next year, FutureLearn announced.

Learners will be able to sign up for courses, and their feedback will be captured to tailor ongoing development of the website. Learners from 165 countries have already registered interest in taking a course, FutureLearn said.

Out of 20 pilot courses, eight are due to begin between October and December this year, from the universities of Birmingham, East Anglia, Leeds, Leicester, Reading, Southampton, and Warwick, and The Open University. Their topics range from history and psychology to dental photography, ecosystems, branding and web science.

Later, courses will be added from the University of Bristol and international partners Monash University and Trinity College Dublin. There are 26 partners in total, including universities and cultural institutions such as the British Library, the British Museum and the British Council.

The new website, FutureLearn said, “combines the best elements of the social web with The Open University’s 44 years of expertise in distance and open learning”. It has been designed to work on smart phones, tablets and desktop computers.

CEO Simon Nelson said: “We wanted to make FutureLearn a fresh, different and enjoyable user experience. We have designed the website in line with principles of effective learning, such as storytelling, discussions and celebrating progress.

“We decided to go live with FutureLearn now, in an open testing phase, so that we can remain responsive to learners as we continue to develop the website.”

Martin Bean, vice-chancellor of The Open University, said: “Time and again we have seen the disruptive impact the internet can have on industries – driving innovation and enhancing the customer experience.

“I have no doubt MOOCs will do the same for education – offering people new and exciting ways to learn.” He said that FutureLearn, which is wholly owned by The Open University, would spearhead the UK’s response to MOOCs.

According to the announcement, FutureLearn’s features will include: rich learning materials in video, audio and text; community learning featuring student profile pages and interaction based on social networking principles; contextual feedback for learners including quizzes, progress pages and scores; a course creator and analytics dashboard for partners; and a record of learning for students that can be shared outside the FutureLearn community.

“FutureLearn will be also be piloting paid-for statements of accomplishment and real-world exams at local test centres later this year,” the organisation said.
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