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MOOC Provider Futurelearn Rockets Past One Million Learner Milestone

FutureLearn announced today that it has reached a major milestone: 1 million learners from over 190 countries have signed up on their platform, taking an average of 2.2 courses each.

A private company wholly owned by the Open University in the UK, Futurelearn has partnered with 44 universities and institutions to offer 220+ courses. Although most of the universities and institutions are in the UK, there are an increasing number outside of it, including universities from the Scandinavian countries, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Korea.

Simon Nelson, FutureLearn’s CEO says of the milestone just reached:

“The million [learner] milestone always felt like a mountain to climb, but now that we’ve hit it, it feels like just a stepping stone. We’re delighted with our progress so far but know we are just getting started – watch this space!”

FutureLearn has a distinctive identity from global MOOC providers Coursera and edX, and European MOOC provider iversity. This identity is apparent and consistent in its website, course catalog, and platform. Here are some of the distinctive elements we’ve noticed at BestCerts:

A strong focus on design – the FutureLearn website is clean and simple, and uses visual elements throughout. This carries over into the course design as well. The course intro videos are all well-produced and of high quality. This is clearly an educational resource aimed at the mass consumer market, closer to an app store than to a school course catalog.

Creative partnering with cultural institutions – In addition to universities, Futurelearn has partnered with the British Museum, the British Library, and the British Council (the latter offering a course for English Learners). One hopes this trend of finding new interesting learning opportunities for the public will continue.

Highly topical and relevant content – Recently there have been courses on the topics of fracking, Ebola, Muslims in Britain, all of them very timely. One unique course on Scottish Independence was scheduled such that the referendum vote fell in the middle of the course, so that learners could discuss the topic before and after the vote. Many of the courses are focused and short, some even lasting only two weeks.

An emphasis on social interaction – FutureLearn has tossed out the single, monolithic discussion board. Instead, it uses the concept of ‘discussion in context’ so that social learning feels like having a quick chat with others about what they’ve just seen. Each element of teaching material, whether text or video has a rolling comments area, which learners can view and participate in. Comments show a small thumbnail picture from the learner’s profile (which makes it feel like Facebook), and learners can choose to follow each other, so that their future comments show up in their activity feed.

There is an over-arching theme we think that ties together all of these elements: FutureLearn is not trying to replicate a university course experience, they are re-imagining the online class experience. Thus, they are not restricted to semester-long course topics traditionally covered in school. They can thus look for new sources of expertise, explore more current topics, and design the whole experience for busy, modern people trying to understand the world around them better.

FutureLearn reports that this approach has beneficial results: 60% of their learners are female (higher than average for MOOCs), 39% of learners engage actively in their courses, with 23% complete the majority of course assignments. This is quite a bit higher than typical MOOCs today.

This goes to show that the world of MOOCs is still in its infancy, full of possibilities and further innovations. FutureLearn is showing one way that MOOCs can develop, and its fast growth and positive results show great promise.

You can see a list of upcoming and past FutureLearn courses on BestCerts. Also, look out for our upcoming in-depth interview with FutureLearn CEO Simon Nelson.