UK-based online education platform FutureLearn is now offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) that can be taken for academic credit, signifying the maturation of a medium that has both shown promise and generated criticism.
Nearly 4 million people worldwide currently use FutureLearn to take courses that enrich their academic or professional lives. With the launch of FutureLearn programs, students will be able to complete a sequence in a defined area and earn an award and, in some cases, academic credit.
Students at Leeds University and Open University will be able to use FutureLearn programs to test the waters in a range of academic subjects. Leeds and OU will allow up to 30 academic credits to be earned through programs after a student has completed them successfully — and the total cost will be £117.
FutureLearn was founded in 2012 by The Open University in Milton Keynes. In just four years, it has built a base of 83 partners worldwide that includes University of Warwick, University of Bath, University College London, and Cardiff University. FutureLearn has also partnered with organizations such as The British Council, Cancer Research UK, and The British Museum.
From Business and Management to Teaching, Law, Literature and STEM subjects, FutureLearn delivers high-quality, online courses that include introductions and in-depth study.
The 13 new programs include Environmental Challenges from Leeds; Online Business Success from RMIT; Big Data Analytics from The University of Queenland; and programs on The Digital Economy, Management and Leadership, and Business and Finance Fundamentals from OU.
Sir Alan Langlands, Leeds University Vice Chancellor, said pointed to how his institution being the first Russell Group University to offer an online course through FutureLearn lines up with the university’s overall mission:
“It signifies our on-going commitment to widen access to higher education, desire to offer flexible and inclusive education and showcases our excellence in research-based learning.”
Major global online education platforms like edX, a consortium originally created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the 133-partner Coursera have grown at a rapid pace in the last few years, boasting courses from some of the finest institutions in the world. But their offerings have been criticised for low completion rates — less than 10% in most cases — and favoring those who traditionally already have access to education.
Supporters of MOOCs and the increasingly-refined platforms that deliver them point to the medium’s successes and possibilities. They envision a world in which outstanding higher education can be delivered to virtually anyone, anywhere, for a low cost — or even for free.
Simon Nelson, FutureLearn’s Chief Executive, sees promise in a platform that breaks education away from the grip of traditional — and wildly expensive — institutions:
“Allowing people to take part of a degree course with the flexibility offered by our platform means that they can achieve meaningful qualifications whilst still being able to work and manage other important parts of their lives.”
Offering academic credit for programs may help streamline the university experience for some students, but the real value may be in letting them try out a subject to determine whether they like it. A 2015 study from the Higher Education Policy Institute and the Higher Education Academy found that roughly 1 in 3 UK students expressed regret over their chosen course and wish they had studied something else instead.
Matt Walton, FutureLearn’s Head of Product, has stated that many more programs will roll out in coming months in addition to the 13 that are currently available.