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FutureLearn is a private company wholly owned by the UK Open University. It has partnered with over 20 leading UK universities to form the FutureLearn consortium. Since October 2013 this has offered a range of MOOCs focussed at informal learning on subjects typically taught at university level. FutureLearn has partnered also with three UK institutions with archives of cultural and educational material - the British Council, the British Library, and the British Museum - and with a few non-UK universities, so far the University of Auckland, Monash University and Trinity College Dublin.
This paper is a case study of FutureLearn. Unlike many case studies of such MOOC-based and OER initiatives, it is not from a member of the consortium. Indeed the case study will not use any privileged information. In evaluation terms it is carried out from an “external observer” standpoint, not from a “participant-observer” standpoint.
The key research question for this case study is to establish the strength and functions of the FutureLearn community - the community of staff at institutions who are engaged, increasingly collaboratively, in creating the FutureLearn courses, supporting the students, and co-developing the FutureLearn software systems and procedures.
The reason for this case study is to test one of the fundamental hypotheses of the POERUP project. POERUP, Policies for OER Uptake, is a study project funded by the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Commission, running from late 2011 until June 2014. Among the core tasks of POERUP are to produce seven in-depth case studies of OER and MOOC communities. In addition to FutureLearn these include OER university (global), Wikiwijs (Netherlands) and ALISON (Ireland).
The research methodology involves so far:
1. documentary analysis of the FutureLearn project, involving what it says about itself and what others say about it, and a preliminary set of informal discussions with stakeholders.
2. in-depth interviews, using an interview template, with key staff at FutureLearn partners.
There will be a final phase of documentary analysis in the May-June 2014, before the end of the POERUP project.
The communities in the POERUP case studies are being analysed using Social Network Analysis, to varying degrees of depth depending on the activity within the communities. Bieke Schreurs the co-author of the presentation is responsible for this aspect of the research (Schreurs et al 2013).
The evidence we have gathered in the POERUP project indicates that at least within the European Union the era of large state-funded OER content initiatives is almost over. Our hypothesis is that a development such as FutureLearn is much more the kind of partnership - public and private, ambitious but not unrealistically so, nationally based yet not nationally bounded - that will succeed - and we want to understand and document why this is so in order that others can learn from it.